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EURO classics: Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

UEFA.com sets the scene for Friday's EURO Classic - a stunning comeback win from UEFA EURO 2004.

VI-Images via Getty Images

The Czech Republic had a mountain to climb after quickly finding themselves 2-0 down against the Netherlands in the UEFA EURO 2004 group stage. Their remarkable recovery – "better than a Robbie Williams mega concert" according to one newspaper – is the next instalment in our series of EURO classics.

WATCH THE GAME BACK IN FULL


Context

Highlights: The best goals of EURO 2004
Highlights: The best goals of EURO 2004

The Czech challenge nearly ended before it had begun in Portugal. In a Group D containing Germany and the Netherlands, the pressure was on Karel Brückner's charges to hit the ground running against underdogs Latvia – but for much of the game they floundered. Entering the last 17 minutes, the finals debutants were on course for a shock victory.

Step forward Pavel Nedvěd and Karel Poborský, members of the team that finished runners-up in 1996. The experienced pair wrested back the initiative, laying the platform for Milan Baroš to level before substitute Marek Heinz grabbed an opportunist winner. A timely wake-up call and, it transpired, good practice in the art of the comeback ahead of the meeting with a Netherlands side that had struck late to share the spoils with Germany.

Key players

Pavel Nedvěd The reigning European Footballer of the Year, a Juventus midfielder renowned for his intelligent runs, winner's temperament and blond locks.

Milan Baroš Apparently Brückner was considering dropping Baroš for the Dutch match to accommodate another midfielder, but the form of the 22-year-old convinced him otherwise.

Milan Baroš: All his EURO 2004 goals
Milan Baroš: All his EURO 2004 goals

Arjen Robben One of the most exciting young players in world football (ignore the fast-receding hairline, he was only 20!), Robben had recently signed for Chelsea after a bit of a bidding war – in Portugal we all saw why.

What happened 

The Netherlands were in complete control after Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooy put them 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, but that was merely the prelude to one of the most exciting encounters in EURO history. In a game that was not so much open as agape, Jan Koller replied swiftly and the chances stacked up at both ends, Edgar Davids striking the woodwork.

Robben spread panic throughout but the winger, just back from injury, was substituted early in the second period and the Oranje's loss was the Czechs' gain. Baroš blasted in a 71st-minute equaliser and John Heitinga's red card meant the Czechs were suddenly on top. The brilliant Nedvěd rattled the bar before Vladimír Šmicer's close-range finish sealed a famous win.

Reaction

Great EURO comebacks: Watch five of the best
Great EURO comebacks: Watch five of the best

Pavel Nedvěd, Czech midfielder: "It was a fantastic match and a fantastic evening. We deserved to win. We slept again at the beginning, as against Latvia, and coming from behind took a lot of energy. The Netherlands played offensively so the fans witnessed a great game."

Milan Baroš, Czech forward: "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."

Karel Brückner, Czech coach: "The beginning was very bad as we made defensive mistakes. We conceded our first goal from a dead-ball situation for almost three years and I was forced to make changes. It was not so risky as our three-man defence worked well."

Dick Advocaat, Netherlands coach: "We deserved more than the result suggests. We had chances to increase our lead but we didn't and, at this level, if you don't take your opportunities you get punished. 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."

Elsewhere that evening

Highlights: Greece’s 2004 final triumph
Highlights: Greece’s 2004 final triumph

Unheralded Latvia proved their opening-day near-miss was no fluke as they held three-time EURO winners Germany to a shock 0-0 draw. The gallant Baltic minnows withstood constant second-half pressure to earn a result that elicited a celebratory phone-call from Latvian prime minister Indulis Emsis.

How Europe's press reacted

Blesk, Czech Republic: You are true champions, guys! This was much better than a Robbie Williams mega concert or Giorgio Armani fashion show. The torrential battle ended with a 3-2 victory, which means advancing to the quarter-finals in top spot.

The Guardian, England: Attack. Attack. Attack. This was football heaven for the purists and although it ended feeling like hell for the Dutch, when they recover they should acknowledge that they took part in an extraordinary game of football.

De Telegraaf, Netherlands: The Dutch had a dream start but a misplaced pass from Phillip Cocu and the inexplicable substitution [of Robben] by coach Dick Advocaat brought the Oranje down.

Aftermath 

Advocaat's wish was the Czechs' command: their second string dumped Germany out of the competition in their final group game (after another comeback, of course), meaning the Netherlands advanced courtesy of a 3-0 victory over Latvia. Both countries reached the semi-finals, where the Dutch lost 2-1 to Portugal and the Czech Republic were edged out by eventual winners Greece in extra time.

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