Man of the Match: Tomas Hubschman started this tournament on the bench, something which lasted all of 45 minutes. After the Czech Republic were dissected by Russia, he reclaimed his place in the team, and the Czechs haven’t lost since.
On Saturday, he did everything you’d want a deep-lying midfielder to do. He broke up anything Poland tried to build through the middle, forcing them wide before trying to come in. His passing brought them out of their third and enabled them to control the game from the 30-minute mark on, serving as the team’s main point of distribution. And on the goal, he was the man who started the movement, springing the Czechs on the counter.
It was the most complete performance we’ve seen this tournament from somebody playing that role.
Packaged for takeaway:
- If Hubchmann hadn’t started the movement on the goal, Czech winger Vaclav Pilar would have been Man of the Match. Consider all the superlatives I just handed Hubschmann, and the consider how good Pilar must have been to have outperformed him.
- Pilar, deployed on the same side as Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski, had a huge defense assignment, and in that phase of the game, you often saw him himself just in front of left back David Limbersky (who, like Hubschman, had his second very good great since put into the starting lineup). Still, he was able to get forward, provide the Czechs’ most consistent threat in attack, and take apart somebody many consider to be the world’s best right back: Poland’s Lukasz Piszczek.
- The Czech Republic’s right back, Theodor Gebre Selassie, had another great day and should draw looks from teams in bigger leagues. The 25-year-old from Slovan Liberec in the Czech Republic had four instances in the first hour where he blew down the right flank and got crosses into the penalty area. He also played well in his own end. Who knows if this is a regular thing for him, but I’d love to find out. If it is, there are few clubs in the world he wouldn’t help, if only as an option coming off the bench.
- If, at the start, the Czechs had assumed Greece could win, this could have been a much more entertaining game. Michael Bilek, however, assumed Russia would win and had his team play somewhat conservatively through the first 45 minutes (thinking a draw would get them through). Imagine his surprise at halftime when he learned Greece was up.
- Through the game’s first 30 minutes, Poland seemed the better side. They were getting a lot of good holdup and distribution work from striker Robert Lewandowski, who consistently drew fouls that set up set pieces delivered beautifully by Ludovic Obraniak.
- Blaszczykowski was also very active, pushing forward and in from this right midfield position to link up with Lewandowski. Franciszek Smuda seemed to have something going when he’d put Obraniak and Blaszczykowski on the same side – a combination that created the goal against Russia. Though Poland lost control of the game for the first half’s last 15 minutes, you could see why Smuda left his team unchanged to start the second.
- But the Czech Republic retained control coming out of break, control they’re maintain through the final whistle. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to many opportunities, as Tomas Rosicky’s injury and Milan Baros’s disappearing act left them dependent on Pilar and Petr Jiracek performing magic wide.
- Poland eventually had to push and started sending their fullbacks forward. In the 72nd minute, Hubschman started a counter that ended up at Baros’s feet. He played left to the oncoming Petr Jiracek, who cut back onto his right foot to beat Prezmyslaw Tyton from 12 yards out.
- On the play, right center half Marcin Wasilewski appeared to have Jiracek in front of him before, while planting to stop moving right, he slipped, fell, and couldn’t contest the shot. It had been raining off and on during the first half, and the field conditions may have played a part in Wasilewski losing his footing.
- In the 94th minute, Michal Kadlec saved the Czech’s quarterfinal berth. A draw would have dropped them from first to third, and when Poland caught the Czechs too narrow and created a chance on the right for Blaszczykowski, it looked like Russia were back in first. Kadlec raced back to the line and got behind a ball Kuba had to place toward the left side of goal. His headed clearance just in front of the line kept the Czechs in first.
- For Poland, the tournament played out like a team not knowing how to get the points they need in this format. They let a 10-man Greece come back and draw, while Saturday they failed to follow through on a good start, letting the Czech Republic gain control of the game before Greece had forced the issue. Yet against Russia on Tuesday, they played very well. They qualified for Euro 2008, so most of the players should be familiar with this kind of tournament soccer. Perhaps expectations got the best of them.
- For the Czech Republic, they finish first despite having the group’s worst goal difference, and it’s not exactly clear how good they are. They’ll get the second place team from Group B in the quarterfinals.
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