The Czech Republic survived an opening onslaught to advance to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 with a 1-0 victory over Poland in Wroclaw. The result leaves the co-hosts, who faded badly after their opening dominance, heading out of the competition to which they, and their fans, in particular, gave so much.
Petr Jiracek's second-half strike was enough for a dogged Czech side that gradually asserted their control on the match, despite missing the creativity of Tomas Rosicky.
Needing to record their first ever victory at a European Championship to progress, Poland had begun in impressive fashion. As early as the second minute many home fans were off their feet as Dariusz Dudka tried an inventive overhead kick that ruffled the wrong side of the netting from a Poland point of view.
For the first half of the opening period it was almost all Poland as time and again they profited from some slack Czech possession in their defensive third.
Jakub Blaszczykowski was again playing a true captain's role as he burst around the pitch trying to aid his side's cause. It was he that picked up a loose ball outside the box, before slipping in Robert Lewandowski to his left. The big striker looked to have a clear path to goal, but Theodor Gebre Selassie recovered sufficiently to put off the Lewandowski enough that his left footed shot sliced wide of the post.
Left-back Sebastian Boenisch almost proved a surprise provider of the opening goal with a long-range half-volley from fully 30 yards that bounced off the turf just in front of goal, meaning Petr Cech had to be fully alert to push the ball wide.
After somehow surviving Poland's initial surge, the Czech Republic started to get a foothold in the match. For the most part, though, the absence of playmaker Tomas Rosicky was all too apparent. Much of the Czechs' possession was reduced to aimless square passes with a desperate lack of quality or imagination in final third.
Indeed, the one man that looked capable of creating something for Michal Bilek's side was Gebre Selassie. The full-back's surges down the right almost gave the Czechs an early opening on the break as he got away from Boenisch far too easily before putting the ball across the box where Vaclav Pilar arrived at the back post but completely fluffed his kick.
Pilar, another bright spark for the Czechs, had another opening late on in the half. From a ball played in by Tomas Hubschman, the attacking midfielder saw his first effort blocked by his own teammate, before collecting the rebound and shooting tamely straight at Tyton.
Coach Bilek had elected to keep faith with Milan Baros up front, but the experienced striker was still struggling to make an impact. His one notable moment in the opening 45 minutes coming as he looked to take advantage of Damien Perquis' ball watching to get on the end of David Limbersky's ball over the top. But at the vital moment, Baros' touch deserted him allowing the ball to run behind.
The news that Greece had gone 1-0 up on Russia had certainly been relayed to the Czech players as they came out with increased vigor at the start of the second-half in an effort to get the victory that they would now need to progress.
Limbersky was starting to become as influential coming forward down the left as Gebre Selassie was down the opposite flank, but the Czechs were still struggling to create clear-cut opportunities. It took a set-piece to seriously test Przemyslaw Tyton for the first time.
Jaroslav Plasil curled a free-kick in toward goal from left and from inside the six-yard box Tomas Sivok got an unconvincing head on the ball that went straight at Tyton, who blocked well before punching it clear of the danger.
As much as the Czechs had upped their game, Poland's levels, not for the first time in this competition, had dropped dramatically from a bright beginning. And the Poles had a big hand in the goal that sealed their exit. As his side poured forward, Rafal Murawski played a terrible pass straight to Hubschman who broke forward before playing the simple pass to Baros to continue the attack. Baros carried the ball ito the top of the box before knocking it off to his left for Jiracek, who cut inside Marcin Wasilewski before finishing low past Tyton.
Poland now needed something special to avoid an early exit from their own party. Instead it was the Czech Republic who came close to adding a second. Dudka just got his toes to the ball to take it away from Sivok having another chance after a Plasil free-kick.
For all the urgings of the home support, Poland never looked like getting the two goals they needed. Their last chance to make a comeback came and went as a Lukasz Piszczek cross was flicked on by Lewandowski, but Marcin Wasilewski, despite being free, was unable to keep his header down.
While it would have meant little for the Poles, Michal Kadlec made a vital clearing header in the final seconds to secure the Czechs' surprising progress as Group A winners.