Record start leads Czech Republic over Greece
Wroclaw, Poland (Sports Network) - The Czech Republic erased the memory of its embarrassing loss to start Euro 2012 in record time Tuesday.
Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar scored inside six minutes, as the Czech Republic became the first country in Euro history to score twice in that span to open a match in a 2-1 win over Greece in Group A.
The Czechs gifted the Greeks a goal in the second half, when miscommunication between goalkeeper Petr Cech and defender Tomas Sivok allowed Theofanis Gekas to score into an empty net, but it would not matter on this occasion.
After a 4-1 loss to Russia in its first match in the event, the Czech Republic has now positioned itself for a knockout berth ahead of its last group fixture against co-host Poland on Saturday.
The Czech Republic would have been eliminated with a loss.
"It was a great start. We started well against Russia, too, but we were lucky enough to score twice (Tuesday)," Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. "The first half was great, the combinations were great, we were dangerous."
Greece tied Poland, 1-1, in its first game, and will need a win against Russia on Saturday if it hopes to return to knockout play for the first time since it won the tournament in 2004.
The Czech Republic was overmatched against Russia to start the tournament, but it was reinvigorated against Greece.
Greece made four changes to its starting lineup, including two in central defense, where it had to replace injured Avraam Papadopoulos and suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
The Czechs exploited the weakness early, as Tomas Hubschman thread a pass down the middle to Jiracek, who made a perfect run from the wing. Jiracek collected the ball and slotted a left-footed shot from 18 yards to the bottom right.
Before Greece could settle down, the Czech Republic added a second goal at the end of a quick buildup. Theodor Gebre Selassie delivered the final pass with a cross from the right end line that slipped through two Greece players.
The ball went off the hand of Greek goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias and then rolled past Kostas Katsouranis, setting up an easy score for Pilar from inside the 6- yard box. Pilar also scored against Russia.
Greece struggled to respond and Chalkias had to be replaced after 22 minutes as the situation got worse for coach Fernando Santos, who had lost just one of his 22 previous matches in charge of Greece.
The Czechs tested backup goalie Michalis Sifakis just once in the opening half as Tomas Rosicky forced a diving save just before the half-hour mark, and was content to sit on its two-goal lead.
Greece nearly pulled a goal back before halftime, but Dimitris Salpingidis was denied his second goal of the tournament when a header to the bottom left was called back for offside.
The Greeks were welcomed back into the fixture when Cech failed to scoop up a innocent cross from the left with teammate Sivok running just in front of him, and the ball bounced to Gekas, who fired home from 14 yards in the 53rd.
"Unfortunately, these first few minutes of the first half were really costly," Santos said. "Against Poland we had managed to equalize, but it was very difficult to come back this time."
Cech also made a few huge mistakes in Euro 2008, but the Czech Republic would not make history again against Greece. The Czechs are the only team in history to blow a two-goal halftime lead, and have done it twice.
Greece could not create offense of its own, however, as the Czech Republic was able to hold on and put itself in position to advance, and leave Greece on the brink of elimination entering the final matches in group play.