Substitute Vladimír Šmicer struck two minutes from time to cap an extraordinary game and send the Czech Republic through to the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth.
Goals from Jan Suchopárek and Pavel Kuka sent Dušan Uhrin's team racing into a two-goal lead at Anfield, but Russia – still not mathematically out of contention for second spot in Group C – launched a superb fightback. Aleksandr Mostovoi and Omari Tetradze drew them level soon after the interval before Vladimir Beschastnykh put them in front with five minutes left. With Italy drawing 0-0 against Germany, it was set to be the Azzurri who went through alongside Berti Vogts' men; then came Šmicer's dramatic intervention.
That such a late rescue act was required looked hugely unlikely at half-time. Suchoparek eased Czech nerves just five minutes in when he headed in a corner, with Kuka pouncing on Stanislav Cherchesov's hesitation to double their advantage 19 minutes. Their lead could have been insurmountable had they not also been twice denied by the woodwork prior to Russia's most unexpected comeback.
Mostovoi's header and Tetradze's close-range shot made it 2-2 before the Czechs were again rebuffed by the frame of Cherchesov's goal. Indeed, their luck seemed to have run out once and for all when Beschastnykh's tremendous long shot put them behind and Italy in pole position. But the seesaw still had time to swing once more, Šmicer latching on to Luboš Kubík's pass and finishing into the bottom corner for his first international goal; it was unlikely he would ever score a more important one.
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