The Czech Republic will enter their key UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifier against the Netherlands on Wednesday high on confidence after coming from behind to defeat Belarus 3-1 in Minsk and extend their unbeaten run to seven matches in Group 7.
Karel Brückner's side have played some superb football in a section they will win if they overcome the Dutch in Prague, after the two sides drew in Rotterdam in March. Pavel Nedved, Vladimír Šmicer and Milan Baroš all scored for the Czechs, who fell behind to Vitali Bulyha's opening strike.
It was an attacking match from the start, with Belarus looking for points to avoid finishing bottom of the group. The home side were rewarded for their adventure in the 14th minute when Bulhya marked his first appearance for his country with a headed goal. The Czechs almost responded immediately, Nedved's stinging drive deserving better than to strike a post.
Jan Koller was next to go close for the visitors, the tall striker causing havoc in the Belarus area before heading the ball in, only for Scottish referee Thomas McCurry to disallow it for foul play by the BV Borussia Dortmund forward. Yet the Czechs were not having it all their own way, Belarus going close through Sergei Gurenko and Maksim Romashchenko.
Dynamo duo missing
Nedved did not follow suit, the Juventus FC playmaker equalising with a superb, curling free-kick from 25 metres in the 37th minute. Baroš missed two chances to put the Czechs ahead, while Vitali Kutusov did likewise for a Belarus side missing two of their best players, the FC Dynamo Kyiv midfield duo of Valentin Belkevich and Aleksandr Khatskevich.
The second half was all about the Czechs, with the Liverpool FC connection of Baroš and Šmicer sealing the result in their country's favour. Šmicer began the move which resulted in the second goal, feeding Karel Poborský whose touch released Baroš to fire in under the crossbar in the 54th minute. With five minutes remaining Šmicer raced on to a Stepan Vachousek through-ball and secured maximum points with a third.
"Even though we were aware of the strength of the opposition we still made a poor start to the match," said victorious coach Brückner. "We found our momentum later in the half and were able to apply more pressure in the second. We had no choice but to win and thankfully our attacking play was good enough."