Four days after what ESPN commentator Adrian Healey called the “Russian Concussion,” a determined Czech Republic team rebounded from a disappointing loss to Russia with a 2-1 victory over Greece. The Czechs knew that they would be up against a tough Greek side that came back from a 1-0 deficit to tie Poland in their first game. A loss would have put the Czechs out of the tournament, but the win solidified their chances to move on to the knockout stage.
With their backs against the wall, the Czech Republic needed players to step up. They didn’t know where they were going to get production, but they needed to find a way to win. The sources turned out to be expected and unexpected. Here are the five heroes for the Czech Republic in today’s defeat of Greece:
1. Petr Jiracek
The Czech Republic needed a fast start, and that is just what they got from Jiracek. The 26-year-old winger started the game for the Czechs on a high note, as he pushed a beautiful pass from Thomas Hubschmann past Greek keeper Kostas Chalkias in the third minute for the 1-0 lead. It was Jiracek’s third goal in 12 appearances for the Czech Republic.
The goal for Jiracek got the Czechs going early, as teammate Vaclav Pilar scored not more than three minutes later to increase the early lead to two. After a disappointing attacking performance in the first game against Russia, Jiracek backed his manager’s selection decision and came up with one of the best games of his international career.
2. Vaclav Pilar
After being the best player on the pitch for the Czech Republic against Russia, Pilar again came up with another solid performance in the win over Greece. After Jiracek gave the Czechs an early lead, Pilar increased the lead to two three minutes later after he put home a cross from defender Theodor Gebre Selassie. The VfL Wolfsburg player isn’t the tallest at 5’6”, but he is a master at making space for himself and finding shooting lanes. After two games in Euro 2012 for the Czech Republic, Pilar has arguably been the best player on the pitch.
3. Theodor Gebre Selassie
The Czech defender has been one of the stars of the tournament for the Czechs. Although Russia scored four goals against the Czech Republic in Game 1, Selassie made his mark on the game by defending well and pushing forward when needed. The 25-year-old continued to push up the field in the game against Greece and played across the ball that was finished by Pilar in the sixth minute. The Slovan Liberec player has been a nice surprise in the tournament so far for the Czech Republic, having established himself as a dangerous attacker coming forward.
4. Michal Bilek
Bilek made one change to the starting lineup from the game against Russia. Bilek inserted David Limbersky into the midfield against Greece for Game 1 starter Jan Rezek. The 28-year-old domestic player for Victoria Plzen had a strong game in the midfield for Bilek, and put in some nice crosses looking for the head of Milan Baros.
Besides a few good spells in the game against Russia, Bilek’s team got outplayed. The Czechs had their backs against the wall today, and with a loss against the Greeks, they would not have had a chance to make it to the knockout stages. Bilek made the right changes at the right time, and stuck with his core of star players en route to the win over Greece.
5. Tomas Rosicky
The Czech Republic captain has had his struggles at Arsenal, but so far in the tournament he has been one of the better players on the Czech side. Rosicky played a strong first half against the Russians, but then disappeared for minutes at a time in the second half. He needed to put together a strong performance today, and he did that with the ball at his feet for a good portion of the first half.
Rosicky is known for his movement in the midfield, as well as his ability to link up with the forwards and give them support when needed. It was evident today that the Czech Republic had a much stronger midfield than the Greeks. The numbers in red were far greater than those in blue. The Czechs controlled most of the possession throughout the game, and dominated the little-used center of the field for the Greeks. Although Rosicky was substituted out early in the second half due to an apparent injury, his play in the center of the field should not go unnoticed.