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Nedved leads Czech charge

An inspirational display from Pavel Nedved was the catalyst as the Czech Republic mounted a rousing fightback to earn a last-eight place.

The Czech fans and players celebrated long after the final whistle went on the match of the tournament so far. Goals by Jan Koller, Milan Baroš and, two minutes from the end, by Vladimír Šmicer, completed a stunning fightback by the Czech Republic after the Netherlands had taken a two-goal lead.

Dutch despondency
The praises of their coach Karel Brückner were sung loud and clear by the jubilant red and white section of the stadium, but it was difficult not to feel sympathy for the Dutch fans. As they had against Germany, they dominated the stadium. Now they must beat Latvia and hope that tonight's opponents will have enough left in the tank to take at least a point against Germany.

Top of the group
But the Czechs are through as group winners to face the runners-up in Group C at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto a week tomorrow. On this form it will take a fine team to stop them emulating the success of the former Czechoslovakia in 1976, and going one step further than they went eight years ago.

Nedved promptings
Pavel Nedved, the European Footballer of the Year, was inspirational, while all around him was accurate short passing and incisive running from the likes of Tomáš Rosický, Baroš and the veteran Karel Poborskyý like Nedved a survivor of the 1996 team that reached the final.

'Fantastic match'
Nedved, elected Carlsberg Man of the Match, said: "It was a fantastic game, a fantastic evening and a fantastic match. We deserved to win. We slept again at the beginning, as against Latvia, and coming from behind took a lot of energy. The difference was that the Netherlands played offensively so the fans saw a great game. But it's only the first step.

'Amazing fans'
"And don’t forget our amazing fans. They were in the minority but they were great. I am sure that our coach will field an effective lineup so now we have to fully concentrate on the forthcoming match against Germany."

Early nerves
Baroš, who equalised with a thunderous strike, said: "We began too nervously and we were completely down after two goals. But it was a fantastic game in the end, the best one I have played yet."

Defensive problems
Brückner said: "The beginning was very bad from our point of view as we made mistakes in defence. We conceded our first goal from a deadball situation for almost three years and I was forced to make changes. It was not so risky as our three-man defence worked well."

Robben replaced
Arjen Robben, who was having an influential game before being replaced by Paul Bosvelt, said: "It's a great disappointment. I would have preferred not to have been substituted because I had a good feeling, but that is a choice of the coach and one has to put up with this."

Change backfires
The beleaguered Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, whose side finished the game with ten men following the dismissal of John Heitinga for a second yellow card, said: "It was Robben's first game in three months. In principle, I changed him to get a player on [Tomáš] Galásek in midfield, and at that stage we were 2-1 up. But it worked the other way around. I still think that it was a game where the team worked hard. We deserved more than the result suggests.

Victory essential
"Even after that Robben change we had chances to increase the score. But we didn't and at this level if you don’t take your opportunities you get punished. The red card was not necessary. If you have young players you have to work with them. We now have to beat Latvia and I expect the Czechs to do their duty in their game and play the way they can play."