Karel Poborský ran the show in front of his home fans at the Toyota Arena in Prague to earn the Czech Republic a direct qualifying place for UEFA EURO 2004™ at the expense of Group 3 rivals the Netherlands.
Poborský on song
The AC Sparta Praha midfield player won the 15th-minute penalty from which Edgar Davids was sent off and Jan Koller put the home side ahead, and then scored himself shortly before the break to ensure a belated Netherlands fightback came to nothing.
Czechs impose control
The joint group leaders squared off with direct qualification at stake, and neither side was willing to risk much in the opening stages. But it was not long before the nimble Czech midfield began to impose control.
Rosický sets tone
Poborský and Tomáš Rosický, in particular, set the tone with some fine interchanges and the quick passing proved too much for Davids, who was booked for a foul on Pavel Nedved on ten minutes. Three minutes later another fine ball from Rosický sent Poborský through on goal before Davids knocked him down for a penalty and a red card.
With the Dutch down to ten men, Koller stepped up to inflict further damage on the visiting side, sending Edwin van der Saar the wrong way from the spot.
Paul Bosvelt came on for Marc Overmars as Dick Advocaat looked to tighten the Dutch midfield, and briefly the Czech Republic were contained. On 23 minutes Phillip Cocu drilled a low shot at Petr Cech, but the home side remained ominously effective on the break and on 38 minutes struck again. This time it was Nedved who provided the killer ball through to Poborský on the right and he drifted into the area before flighting a delicate lob over the on-rushing Van der Sar.
Dutch frstrations spilled over and Ruud van Nistelrooij was booked for a poor challenge on Nedved just before the break. And things looked set to get worse for the Netherlands when Poborský kicked off the second half as he had ended the first, bearing down on Van der Saar's goal. Then on 51 minutes Van der Saar had to be at his best to keep out Vladimir Šmicer's low drive after he had been picked out in space by the rampaging Poborský.
But the Dutch worked a toe-hold on the game soon after. A deep cross into the box was headed clear by René Bolf, but straight into the path of Rafael van der Vaart whose low shot cannoned in off the unfortunate Martin Jiránek.
Baroš leaves it late
The army of Dutch fans found their voice and urged their side forward. But as the Netherlands attacked, they left themselves exposed and the home side finally took advantage with the final kick of the match, Milan Baroš rounding Van der Saar to complete a perfect night for the Czech Republic and force the Netherlands to content themselves with a place in the play-offs.