Co-hosts Poland crashed out of the European Championship as they lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw, Poland, on Saturday with their opponents winning Group A.
Petr Jiracek scored the only goal of the game 18 minutes from time as the Czechs joined Greece — the 2004 champions — in the quarter-finals.
Few would have predicted such an outcome before the group games began and even fewer who saw the first halves here and in Warsaw.
“We started badly and let the occasion get to us a little bit, the home side capitalized on our mistakes,” Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech said. “But with time we got better, we created chances and then scored a deserved goal.”
“We knew the result [of the other game], they told us and we could see it on a screen, but we focused on ourselves, decided not to wait for miracles and to score instead,” he said.
Poland were totally dominant in the opening period, but seemed to have left it all on the pitch in that first 45 minutes and they were second best after the restart.
Coach Franciszek Smuda, whose contract is now up and will leave his post, said he regretted their inability to take their chances.
“We know we had the chance to win, but they [the Czech team] played excellent football and they scored a goal,” he said. “We had several opportunities in the first half, but we didn’t take our chances.”
However, it was a mistake that cost them as Rafal Murawski tried to drive forward from midfield and lost the ball with little cover behind him.
It means Poland have never reached the knock-out stages of the Euros, while the Czech Republic did so for the third time in the past five editions.
Given the hosts’ absolute need to win, it was no surprise they set a manic tempo from the off and the first half hour must have made uncomfortable viewing for the visiting Czech fans.
Twice in the opening minutes, the home fans let out a brief cheer, but Dariusz Dudka’s overhead bicycle kick and Ludovic Obraniak’s free-kick both hit the side-netting rather than the back one.
The Czechs did have one sniff themselves, but Vaclav Pilar swiped at thin air from 12 yards from Theodor Gebre Selassie’s cross.
A horribly misplaced pass from Jaroslav Plasil was intercepted by Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski and he slipped in Borussia Dortmund teammate Robert Lewandowski, but he sliced his shot well wide.
Such was Poland’s dominance that even their defense started getting in on the act and Sebastian Boenisch shot wide when well placed before sending Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech scurrying across his goal to scramble the ball behind from a long-range volley.
Toward the end of the half, Poland’s electric pace — which seemed to have provoked a couple of flashes of lightning and an enormous crack of thunder — slowed markedly and the Czechs came back into it.
However, a deflected Jiracek shot and Pilar’s low effort did not overly tax goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who kept his place despite the return from suspension of Wojciech Szczesny.
The second half was the reverse of the first, with Poland melting away and the Czech Republic piling forwards.
David Limbersky skipped into the box, but prodded wide before Tomas Sivok won a header from Plasil’s free-kick inside the six yard box only for his downward effort to bounce up into Tyton’s chest.
The big breakthrough came 18 minutes from time as Murawski surged forward from midfield, but was dispossessed by Jiracek.