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Czech Republic coach Michal Bílek praised his players' experience after sealing their place at UEFA EURO 2012 with a 1-0 win in Montenegro.
Already 2-0 up after Friday's play-off home leg, the visitors made sure in Podgorica with Petr Jiráček's 81st-minute goal. The victory keeps up the Czech record of qualifying for every European Championship finals since the 1993 split with Slovakia, although Bílek admitted the campaign had been far from straightforward.
"We have been under pressure since the defeat in our opening home game against Lithuania, but the players coped with that and I am glad to be part of this side," Bílek said. "
I knew we would have a difficult match in Montenegro, in front of a passionate crowd and against a dangerous team, but I have experienced players who know how to deal with that. I congratulate them."
Petr Čech – who had been a doubt for the play-off after breaking his nose last week – showed why Bílek was desperate for him to be in goal with some fine saves to preserve the Czech advantage. "It was a difficult journey for us and we are glad to have made it," Čech said.
"In the first half we did what we wanted, keeping our opponents away from the danger zone. After the break, we allowed them to become much more dangerous. They are a difficult team to beat, we managed to beat them twice and must be very satisfied."
Captain Tomáš Rosický pointed out that his team showed huge "fighting spirit" in the second leg. "It was a very tough match, but we knew Montenegro would fight until the end," he said. "We tried to keep the ball, but it was very difficult on this pitch, which was far from ideal. But, it was not about technique here, it was about fight, and I am glad that we showed fighting spirit at this moment.
"The finals are six months away, we have time to think about them – we are happy to be among Europe's best and now it is time to celebrate," added Rosický while Čech concluded: "We will wait for the draw and then we will define our ambitions. We have nothing to lose in Poland and Ukraine, as we have achieved our main goal."
Montenegro may be out but this was a fine performance on their UEFA EURO qualifying debut, which included two draws against England and the elimination of regular qualifiers Switzerland. Coach Branko Brnović said that he was "sad, but proud" after the end of their campaign.
"We showed that we are not below the level of the Czech Republic," he said. "They had more luck and Petr Čech was fantastic, especially in the second leg. We had at least five chances, but their goalkeeper was their saviour. We achieved something big by reaching the play-off and we must find this sprit for the 2014 World Cup."
Captain Mirko Vučinić sent the fans the same message. "We showed that we can compete against the best European teams.
This defeat has left a bitter taste, but life goes on. I said it was now or never for us, but now I have changed my mind. We will try to repeat at least the same story in our next qualifying campaign."
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