The Czech Republic maintained their slim advantage at the top of UEFA EURO 2008™ Group D when they came from behind to draw against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Ireland bounce back
The home side, who went into the game with heavy pressure on manager Steve Staunton after Saturday's 5-2 defeat in Cyprus, took the lead after 62 minutes through Kevin Kilbane only for Jan Koller to hit back within 90 seconds to earn the Czechs a point that keeps them one point clear of Germany at the head of the group. For Ireland, it was a welcome first point after defeats against Germany and Cyprus.
Ireland, missing 13 players through injury as well as the suspended Richard Dunne, started like a team with a point to prove after arguably their worst ever competitive defeat. A Kilbane throw-in after 16 minutes caught the Czech defence flat-footed and reached Jonathan Douglas but the midfielder, on his first start, save his low shot blocked by Cech's outstretched foot.
Ireland went even closer in the 18th minute with John O'Shea flicking just over the crossbar after a free-kick from Andy Reid. From another Reid delivery, Koller was fortunate to see his defensive header fall just wide of the right-hand post as he tried to clear. However, the classy Czechs, who had beaten Wales, Slovakia and San Marino in their three previous matches, responded with Tomáš Ujfaluši shooting wide from 20 metres. Milan Baroš then pounced on to Koller's knockdown but his effort was saved at point-blank range by Ireland keeper Wayne Henderson, another player making his competitive debut.
Ireland ended the first half strongly with Reid forcing a save from Cech and Duff curling wide. They maintained their momentum after the break, and took the lead in the 62nd minute when Kilbane stroked home a low cross from Duff after Douglas had done well to turn over possession. The Czechs struck back immediately, however, with Koller holding off the attentions of debutant Paul McShane before squeezing a 15-metre shot past Henderson and just inside the right-hand post for his fourth goal of the campaign and 47th for this country.
Despite that setback, Ireland roused themselves in the closing moments and almost hit a winner after 88 minutes when Duff crossed to the far post for Robbie Keane but the Irish captain failed to connect in front of goal. Ireland will hope to build on their first point when they entertain San Marino next month while the Czechs have to wait until March for their top-of-the-table contest with Germany in Prague.