Goals from Thierry Henry and Youri Djorkaeff took France through to the quarter-finals with a game to spare, in the process consigning EURO '96 runners-up Czech Republic to elimination.
A shaky start from France looked long forgotten when Henry broke the deadlock on seven minutes, but doubts resurfaced when Karel Poborský's penalty levelled matters ten minutes before the break. The world champions restored their lead on the hour when Djorkaeff powered in a shot after Henry got the better of Tomáš Řepka in a goalmouth tussle and poked the ball to his team-mate.
In an enthralling Group D encounter the Czechs were not done, and Jan Koller glanced a header off the top of the crossbar. Laurent Blanc headed wastefully wide at the other end but as the game neared its conclusion, they were pushing forward more in hope than expectation. France duly held on and join next opponents the Netherlands in the last eight; the Czech Republic meet Denmark with only the pride of third to play for.
The outlook was decidedly rosier in the early stages as France's back line, with Vincent Candela preferred to Bixente Lizarazu on the left, creaked alarmingly. Fabien Barthez parried Pavel Nedvěd's drive and Koller headed Jiří Němec's cross just wide, as the Czechs – so unlucky to lose their opening game to the Netherlands – burst out of the blocks.
Again, however, they were architects of their own downfall. Petr Gabriel, who conceded the last-minute penalty against the Oranje, played a back pass straight into the path of Henry and the Arsenal FC striker raced clear to poke the ball in. It was a sledgehammer blow, and Henry almost increased France's advantage on 19 minutes after being released by Zinédine Zidane but he side-footed wide.
It was splendid, end-to-end football and before half-time the Czech Republic were level as Vladimír Šmicer capitalised on an Emmanuel Petit error and released Nedvěd. The midfielder was brought down by a dual challenge led by Didier Deschamps and, from the resulting spot kick, Poborský slammed in. Poborský also shaved the post as a fantastic first half of fire, passion and skill reached a glorious crescendo.
The players exited to a standing ovation and picked up where they left off on the resumption. It took a marvellous Barthez save to deny Nedvěd after more good work from Šmicer but the goal from Djorkaeff, a half-time substitute, left the Czech Republic's hopes hanging by a thread. The Netherlands' subsequent win against Denmark severed it completely.
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