There is always a player who comes into a major final tournament known only within the confines of his own country and ends it with his name being spoken in many different languages – and with varying degrees of accuracy – around the continent. If he continues playing as he has done in his first two games at UEFA EURO 2012, the Czech Republic's Václav Pilař could be that man.
The Czech accent, the háček, above the 'r' in his surname makes Pilař a challenge for even the most linguistically-gifted tongue; his talent with the ball at his feet is proving equally insurmountable for some of Europe's best defenders. The Russian back four watched on as the diminutive winger raced beyond them before rounding goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to finish with a sang froid that belied the fact it was only his second international goal.
Kostas Katsouranis then bore witness to the fierce determination the 23-year-old packs into his 170cm frame as the Greek defender joined the ball in crossing the line as Pilař bundled in his nation's second goal on Tuesday.
That drive eventually proved the difference between the Czechs picking up only a point rather than the 2-1 victory they did earn, and it means they come into Saturday's final Group A game with co-hosts Poland knowing another win will propel them into the knockout stages. Though a point could well be enough, unsurprisingly, Pilař wants more.
"We know full well that we can't play for a draw – it wouldn't pay off – so we'll try to give the best possible performance and try to achieve the best possible result," he told UEFA.com at the Czech team base in Wroclaw. "We know that Poland are a quality team, and I think that in their last match against Russia they played well, so it will definitely be hard. But we want to fight to qualify and that's our goal."
True to his unassuming, softly-spoken nature, Pilař played down his achievements so far. "Most importantly, I'm glad that those two goals have helped the team," he said, though his displays have not gone unnoticed. After being the most prominent Czech in their 4-1 opening-game defeat by Russia, he was elected Carlsberg Man of the Match following his 90-minute lead role against Greece. Such moments are what career-forming moves are made of, but Pilař has already decided his immediate future, signing a deal last winter to join compatriot and former FK Viktoria Plzeň team-mate Petr Jiráček at VfL Wolfsburg.
If he continues in the same vein in which he has started the tournament when the co-hosts come to the Municipal Stadium Wroclaw on Saturday, the self-satisfied grin on the face of Felix Magath, his club coach next season, will only get broader. For the moment, however, Pilař is merely focused on putting a smile on the face of Bílek and the Czech supporters who will pour across the nearby border to back their team.
"The first two matches were great because the fans were cheering for us, as well as the majority of Polish ones," said Pilař, who – like his team-mates – has been reaping the home-from-home comforts of having their team hotel in central Wroclaw, the venue for all three of the Czechs' group-stage games. "But now we will be playing against Poland and only the Czech fans will be behind us. I believe a lot of them will also come this time and that they will be supporting us, and we would like to express our thanks to the Czech fans for this."
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