Jan Koller's stoppage-time goal ensured the Czech Republic concluded their UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying campaign with a 3-2 defeat of ten-man Austria in the Ernst Happel stadium in Vienna.
The Czech team had done enough to reach the final tournament in Portugal next summer before kick-off and, on a run of 17 matches without a loss, went into the encounter brimming with the confidence of a side in form. Austria, meanwhile, entertained no chance of qualification and finished the section in third position in the standings.
The hosts, nevertheless, showed admirable spirit despite the fact that their opponents seized the early initiative, taking control in the sixth minute when Marek Hein's reflex shot cannoned off the post after a save from Thomas Mandl fell neatly into his path.
Midfield player Marek Jankulovski proved a more than capable stand-in striker in the absence of Vladimír Šmicer and Milan Baroš, putting his side ahead after 27 minutes. Austria found themselves on the back foot after the goal and barely created a dangerous opening in the remainder of the half.
In the second half, however, the match took on a different complexion. The home team, looking increasingly lively and combative, equalised in the 51st minute when striker Mario Haas latched on to a long ball from midfield and slotted past goalkeeper Petr Cech.
From that moment on the encounter was played at a frenetic pace, with both teams pouring forward in search of victory. Although Austria were left a man short when Markus Schopp received a second yellow card for a late tackle on Jankulovski, they took the lead in the 77th minute through Andreas Ivanschitz.
The visitors, however, drew level two minutes later with a goal from Stepan Vachousek and the strike infused them with the enthusiasm to settle the match, the inspirational Pavel Nedved storming down the left to feed Koller, who made no mistake from an unmarked position inside the area.
Austria midfield player Mario Schopp claimed that it was the Czech Republic's big names who proved the difference. "
We saw the class of Nedved and Koller, who fought until the last minute," he said.