The Czech Republic came right back into contention for a quarter-final berth at Euro 2012 with a 2-1 victory over Greece in Wroclaw.
After an abject display in losing 4-1 to Russia on Friday, this was a much-improved Czech performance, particularly in the opening period. Petr Jiracek and Varoclav Pilar scoring in the first 10 minutes to put them firmly in control before Per Cech gifted Greece a lifeline early in the second half. A disappointing Greek side will now have to make a quick recovery with a win needed in their final game with Russia to have any chance of progressing from Group A.
Greece came into the match missing their two starting center-backs from their opening match with Avraam Papadopoulos injured and Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended. That handicap appeared to be firmly in Czech coach Michal Bilek's mind in preparation as his side targeted what was shown to be a glaring weakness to devastating early effect.
After just three minutes, Tomas Hubschman spotted the garish gaps in the Greek defense as he played a perfect ball right into the stride of Jiracek bursting in from the right. The midfielder took a clam touch before firing the ball low and hard off the outstretched arms of Konstantinos Chalkias and into the net.
Clearly having not learned their lesson, it was a similar scenario that saw the Greeks become the fastest side in European Championships history to fall two goals behind.
Tomas Rosicky this time was allowed far too much space to spring Theodor Gebre Selassie in behind Jose Holebas in the inside right channel. The right-back's cut back could only be deflected by Chalkias and Pilar got ahead of two Greek challenges to bundle the ball in from inside the six-yard box.
Already in a deep hole, a shell-shocked Greece continued to be look all at sea at the back and allowing Tomas Rosicky all the room in the world to run the show from his advanced midfield role. The Arsenal man--who was disappointingly withdrawn at half time--looked back to his best and made full use of the industry and clever movement of Jiracek and Pila coming in from the flanks.
Much of the credit must also go to Hubschman, whose disciplined role in the front of the back four provided the Czech Republic with the strong base to go and express themselves further forward. Something which was dearly missing in the opening game against Russia.
As if to illustrate that this was not to be their day, Greece lost their goalkeeper to injury after 22 minutes to be replaced by Michalis Sifakis. It appeared to be a lower back problem, though few could blame Chalkias if he simply wanted to remove himself from the continued barrage enabled by his lax defense.
While Greece began to gain something of a foothold in the match, there was a stark lack of creativity. Fernando Santos' side left Petr Cech completely untested in the first half as they were reduced to hitting hopeful balls into the box from deep. It was that rudimentary tactic, though, that led Greece to temporarily believe they had pulled a goal back int final five minutes of the first half. An in-swinging cross from the right was met by a clean header from Giorgios Fotakis that beat Cech, but the Greek celebrations were halted as the flag went up for the most marginal of offsides.
For the second game in succession, though, Greece came back into the match courtesy of their half-time substitute.
A poor ball came into the edge of the Czech box that should have posed little threat, but a lack of communication between Cech and defender Tomas Sivok led the Chelsea goalkeeper to spill the ball right into the path of Theofanis Gekas who rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
Already displaying a more cohesive performance following the introduction of Gekas, the goal gave increased life to a previously listless Greek outfit.
The Czechs, despite remaining the more cohesive side, lacked the threat of the first half, particularly without the creativity of Rosicky.
The game remained finely balanced as, with Santos going all out with his attacking substitutions, Greece always maintained a danger with direct balls forward into their front men. But there was little else offered from Greece and the Czech's held firm to withstand the aerial assault offered up by their increasingly desperate opponents.
It wasn't the prettiest in the second-half, yet Bilek will be pleased at the resilience displayed by his charges to compliment the free-flowing performance of the opening period. Going forward there is little doubt, though, that the Czech's hopes will be dependent on the form and perhaps more importantly fitness of Tomas Rosicky.