The Czech Republic came back from 2-0 down to record an amazing 3-2 win against Holland in a thrilling match which will be remembered for years to come.
The result brought heartbreak for Holland who earlier had looked in control of the game, but credit to the Czechs, who with this hugely impressive performance, have confirmed that they are a genuine title contenders.
The Czech Republic could have gone ahead in the opening minute when Rosicky lofted a pass through to Koller but the towering striker volleyed over from 12 yards.
However, we did not have to wait long for the first goal.
Holland took just three minutes to open the scoring. Arjen Robben, who was proving to be a handful for the Czechs in open play, proved equally deadly from a set-piece. His curling free-kick found Bouma who had evaded the attentions of his marker to plant a firm header past Cech.
Bruckner’s team responded well with Nedved working tirelessly in midfield, while up front Koller’s height and Baros’ energy provided contrasting problems for the Dutch defence.
However, despite being pinned back in their own half, it was Holland who scored the next goal. There was a whiff of controversy about their second with the Czechs complaining that Van Nistelrooy had come from an offside position to tap in Robben’s cross from the left.
Despite the setback, the Czechs were not downhearted and they came back midway through the half. Bouma gave the ball away to Baros who advanced on the retreating Stam and was somewhat fortunate to poke the ball towards Koller who finished from close range.
The game continued to be played at a hectic pace and Holland in particular had the chances to extend their lead. Davids hit the post and Heitinga drew a spectacular fingertip save from Cech.
The unrelenting pace continued after the break. Nedved saw his left footed volley well saved by Van der Saar and the Dutch keeper then produced a brilliant save to tip Smicer’s goalbound shot wide of the post.
The Czechs got their just reward on 70 minutes when Koller chested the ball down to Baros and the Liverpool striker lashed the ball home from the edge of the area.
At this point, the game was anyone’s for the taking. Van der Meyde came close for Holland Nedved struck the bar from 30 yards, but the turning point came when Heitinga was sent of for a second bookable offence. The decision seemed harsh as the Ducth defender barely touched Nedved who went down easily.
Reduced to ten men, Holland looked happy to hear the final whistle but with three minutes of normal time remaining, there was one cruel blow to come. Baros, who worked tirelessly throughout the game, set up Heinz whose snap shot was well saved by Van der Saar, but the ball fell to Poborsky who had the presence of mind to square for Smicer to slide into an empty net.
On the final whistle, the Czechs celebrated as if they had won the tournament. If they continue to play in this vein, no one would bet against them.
Holland’s role in this epic encounter should not be overlooked. They were unrecognisable from the team which struggled to earn a point against Germany and played a huge part in what was the game of the tournament to date.
Holland 2-3 Czech Republic
– Holland: Wilfred Bouma 4, Ruud van Nistelrooy 19
– Czech Republic: Jan Koller 23, Milan Baros 71, Vladimir Smicer 88
Red Card: Johnny Heitinga (Netherlands) 75
Holland:1-Edwin van der Sar; 18-Johnny Heitinga, 4-Wilfred Bouma, 3-Jaap Stam, 5-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 20-Clarence Seedorf (11-Rafael van der Vaart 86), 8-Edgar Davids, 6-Philip Cocu; 7-Andy van der Meyde (2-Michael Reiziger 79), 19-Arjen Robben (21-Paul Bosvelt 58), 10-Ruud van Nistelrooy
Czech Republic: 1-Petr Cech; 2-Zdenek Grygera (7-Vladimir Smicer 25), 21-Tomas Ujfalusi, 13-Martin Jiranek, 6-Marek Jankulovski; 4-Tomas Galasek (18-Marek Heinz 62), 8-Karel Poborsky, 10-Tomas Rosicky, 11-Pavel Nedved; 15-Milan Baros; 9-Jan Koller (22-David Rozehnal 75)
Referee: Referee: Manuel Gonzalez (Spain)