Man of the Match: The Czech Republic did its damage wide, with Petr Jiracek making the biggest mark. Against Russia, he played in central midfield, but head coach Michal Jirek decided to sit Jan Rezek and move Jiracek wide . The move paid off within three minutes, with Jiracek beating Jose Holebas on a run from the right, getting onto a ball from Thomas Hübschman, and putting the Czechs in front. Throughout the match, Jiracek combined with Theodor Gebre Selasse to terrorize Greece’s left flank, and when the Czechs shifted gears and looked to bleed out the match, Jiracek was one of the teams’ hardest workers.
Packaged for takeaway:
- With two goals in six minutes, the Czechs put the match away early. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time, but we should have suspected. Greece eventually came into the game but never threatened Petr Cech, their goal a gift from the Chelsea `keeper. I would call Greece’s performance disappointing, but that would be both a cliché and an understatement.
- The second goal highlighted the two major problems Greece at the match’s onset.
- Problem one: Their bad flank. It was another goal build down Greece’s left, a side that’s been terrible all tournament. Theodor Gebre Selasse beat Jose Holebas, got a ball into the six (barely eluding goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias), allowing Vaclav Pilar to direct a ball into the empty net.
- Problem two: Early disorganization, uncertainty. Kostas Katsouranis played a major part in the second goal. The veteran Greek destroyer was forced into defense, with both of Greece’s first choice central defenders out (suspension and injury). A more experienced defender probably would have cleared the Gebre Selasse ball with his left foot, but Katsouranis looked uncertain. This allowed Pilar to slide in, put the winner home, notching his second goal of the tournament.
- Soon after, Chalkias had to come off. It was the second match in a row where injury forced Santos into an early substitution. Having played from behind for most of the tournament, the Greece coach has had his hands tied.
- Greece left back Jose Holebas has probably been the tournament’s worst player. Can you think of another player who has performed worse? I’ll admit I may not have thought about this enough, but between Poland’s success down Greece’s left and the goals the Czech Republic produces, I can’t think of another player who has done worse.
- A series of interesting lineup changes by Santos probably hurt. Then again, he didn’t know his team was going to give up two goals early. He moved Giorgios Samaras from left forward to number nine, a chance didn’t work. Samaras couldn’t win the nice long balls Kostas Kastsouranis played forward, losing a number of aerial challenges to Tomas Sivok. When Samaras shifted back to his regular left-sided attacking role, he was one of Greece’s few bright spots.
- In the preview, I talked about Greek youth needed to step up. Santos gave 19-year-old Kostas Fortounis a chance, putting him in the starting XI. He was not only quiet, he failed to help against Gebre Selasse, the right back giving (what on another day would be) a man of the match performance. Fortounis was eventually brought off.
- Michal Bilek’s changes, however, worked. The left side of defense that was so leaky versus the Russians was fixed by moving Michal Kadlec in to left-center half while David Limbersky, in at left back, was one of the team’s better players. Inserting Thomas Hübschman allowed Jiracek to move outside, with Hübschman providing a nice assist on the first goal.
- There was only two areas of concern for the Czechs:
- Petr Cech had another howler, mishandling a soft Samaras ball sent in from 35 yards, gifting Theofanis Gekas a goal.
- The team’s also getting nothing from Milan Baros, whose effort was discouraging. In the 60th minute, a small bump in the back from Kyriakos Papadopoulos was enough to stop Baros contending for a long ball. Those type of bumps happen on 94.6 percent of long balls (I made that number up). Minutes later, Bilek took Baros off.
- Going forward, the Czechs are into the quarters with a win over co-hosts Poland. Greece needs a win over Russia to have a chance. Both matches kick off simultaneously on Saturday.
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