Tomáš Rosický did not get on the scoresheet, but the creative Czech Republic captain played a starring role as his nation edged towards the UEFA EURO 2012 finals with a 2-0 first-leg defeat of Montenegro.
The visitors had pinpointed Rosický as the man most likely to undermine their hopes of reaching a first major tournament, and so it proved in a wintry Prague. The Arsenal FC midfielder undid an organised Montenegro defence on 63 minutes with a delightful pass that allowed Václav Pilař to register his first senior international goal. Tomáš Sivok then headed in a flighted Rosický free-kick in added time to give the Czechs a two-goal advantage ahead of Tuesday's second leg.
Mirko Vučinić had highlighted the visitors' desire for a first-leg goal, and the Juventus striker will have been disappointed not to have given his team the souvenir they wanted from their visit to the Czech capital shortly after the quarter-hour mark. Having darted in front of Sivok to reach Savo Pavičević's cross, Vučinić could not keep his first-time shot down from close range.
With the visitors content to play on the break, the Czechs enjoyed the majority of possession, and with Rosický bubbling over with creativity, they came close to making something of it before the break. The 31-year-old's pass set up Tomáš Pekhart, who dragged his shot wide. The rangy forward then extended himself to nod a Rosický ball into Petr Jiráček's path but with time and space just inside the penalty area, he failed to find the target.
Seemingly content to soak up pressure in the first half, Montenegro emerged after the break with greater ambition. Czech coach Michal Bílek was keen Petr Čech should start wearing a custom-made mask to protect his broken nose, and a brilliant one-handed save from Simon Vukčević's curling effort showed why. With Rosický in sparkling form, however, the hosts made the breakthrough.
After picking out Jiráček only to see the FC Viktoria Plzeň man fire wide, Rosický quickly produced another intelligent ball from wide that allowed Pilař to fire low into the left-hand corner. With fireworks going off over central Prague, the unmarked Sivok enhanced the party mood, nodding Rosický's set piece beyond Mladen Božović to leave Bílek's men well placed for Tuesday's trip to Podgorica.