Czech Republic vs. Poland: 6 Things We Learned from Euro 2012 Showdown
Tonight, Poland got knocked out of Euro 2012 with a 1-0 loss to the Czech Republic. In what was a thrilling match, Petr Jiracek gave the Czech fans who traveled to Wroclaw a lasting memory with a goal in the 72nd minute.
This win helps alleviate the memory of losing to Turkey during their final group stage match in Euro 2008 after holding a 2-0 lead. Obviously, the Czech Republic will have their work cut out for them with a difficult quarterfinal fixture against the second-place finisher in Group B.
Meanwhile, Poland will leave a tournament that they co-hosted with just two points, two goals and a bunch of "what if" moments. Euro 2012 was a fantastic opportunity for Poland to modernize its infrastructure and facilities. But failing to advance to the quarterfinals will be the lasting memory that many Polish fans will have to live with.
Now through two European championships, Poland has yet to register a win. They will be expected to reach Euro 2016 with an enlarged field. But much work still needs to be done to make Poland into one of Europe's strongest sides.
Outside of what happened in the past several years, there were some fairly interesting developments that took place during this rainy night in Wroclaw. Here are six things we have learned from this group finale.
Home Support Didn't Help Poland
Euro 2012 is the biggest sporting event to take place on Polish soil. Now 23 years removed from communism, Poland's fans were hoping that these European championships could provide a large amount of national pride.
That did happen. During the three group-stage matches that Poland participated in, their fans filled the stadiums to the brim and made their voices heard. When Robert Lewandowski scored against Greece in the 17th minute of the opening match, it seemed like a moment that would forever live in Polish football lore.
But Poland did not produce. Even after getting positive results against sides like Portugal, Mexico and Bosnia and Herzegovina heading into Euro 2012, the players just couldn't produce.
Considering recent history in the European championships, we shouldn't be too surprised that Poland failed to advance. In 2008, co-hosts Austria and Switzerland failed to advance. In the last 11 matches that have been played by a co-host in the Euros, the host nation has lost six times.
Poland's Midfield Was a Major Disappointment
Throughout the match, Poland's midfield was inconsistent and lacked creativity. Even with players like Jakub Błaszczykowski, it just seemed that the Poles couldn't create chances. In fact, Poland created more chances (six) in the first half than the two that were made in the second half.
The biggest disappointment was Rafal Murawski. The aging midfielder completed just 33 percent of his passes in the attacking third, and his poor play led to the winning goal.
With the networking of the European game, Poland can only hope that this tournament and this loss will allow for a better midfield system to be implemented into their game.
Poland Were Unlucky Not to Score
Despite lacking in creating chances, Poland still should have scored at least once. There was Lewandowski's effort that hit the side netting during the first half, along with a brilliant effort from Sebastian Boenisch that was barely saved by Petr Cech.
The most notable effort was the one that Blaszczykowski had in which he beat Cech. Unfortunately for Poland, the effort was headed off the line, which ended all hope of advancing for the host nation.
Poland had one of the top strikers in Euro 2012 in Lewandowski, which makes the nation's low goal total even more surprising.
A Great Defensive Effort Was Needed to Stop Poland
Poland probably would have scored in this match, but the defensive effort that was put forward by the Czech Republic must be commended.
Thanks to a 59 percent possession rate, almost 60 percent of the play in the match took place in Poland's half. Furthermore, Poland had a hard time stopping a Czech side that completed 82 percent of their passes. In this case, the Czech Republic's offense was their best defense.
But the Czech defenders were also strong. The pressure that they put on Poland caused the host nation to have a completion percentage under 60 percent. The Czechs were also successful on 83 percent of their attempted tackles.
The Czechs Will Need to Do More in the Quarterfinals
This Czech Republic squad defied all odds to make the quarterfinals after losing 4-1 to Russia eight days ago. On the same rain-soaked pitch in which the Czech's lost, they emerged as champions of Group A after defeating Poland in front of a raucous crowd.
What the Czechs did in the second half showed us how they could respond to desperation, and the Nároďák certainly did well. But part of that desperation was due to the Czech's knowledge of the result in Warsaw, where Greece was beating Russia 1-0.
The Czech Republic can play and defeat Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal. But they will need to perform at an incredible clip in order to do so. The Czechs are not the most defensive side in the tournament, nor are they blessed with gifted goal scorers.
To reach the semifinals, the Czechs must put on their best performance in recent memory.
What to Make of Poland?
There are plenty of things that Polish football fans are thinking after finishing last in their group in Euro 2012. Among other things, they cannot believe that this was their nation's final result after looking so promising in friendlies leading up to the tournament.
Poland ultimately failed due to a lack of fitness. In Warsaw, the Poles looked incredible throughout the first half, but they were duds in the second half, due in large part to the humidity caused by a closed roof. Against Russia, there was a strong second-half performance, but injuries started to creep into the squad at the end of the match.
Against the Czech Republic, Poland had nothing left to offer. They were stuck defending against a Czech side that was missing their most creative player, Tomáš Rosický.
Though Lewandowski's star grew from the tournament, it is unknown if he will ever get to play in another international tournament considering where the Polish game stands at the moment. Hopefully, this failure in Euro 2012 is just a pot hole on the road to success for Poland's program.