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Czechs leave Greece standing with flying start in EURO 2012 Group A

Greece 1-2 Czech Republic
Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař scored inside six minutes as the Czechs recovered from their opening loss to rekindle their Group A ambitions.

Václav Pilař celebrates after putting Czech Republic two goals in front
Václav Pilař celebrates after putting Czech Republic two goals in front ©AFP/Getty Images

After making their worst-ever opening to a major final tournament, the Czech Republic made amends thanks to a lightning start as they beat Greece 2-1 to reignite their hopes of making the knockout stages.

The 4-1 defeat by Russia last Friday in their Group A curtain-raiser had clearly stung Michal Bílek's men. They responded by taking the fastest-ever two-goal lead in UEFA European Championship history as Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař both found the net inside six minutes in Wroclaw. Though an uncharacteristic slip by Petr Čech allowed substitute Fanis Gekas to pull one back eight minutes after the break, the Czechs held on to register a maiden win over Greece, though both teams still harbour ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals.

EURO 2012: All you need to know

Fernando Santos's hand had been forced with injury and suspension depriving him of the two central defenders who had begun the opening game against Poland. The Greece coach soon had reason to curse the fates. Almost no sooner had they been put together than the makeshift centre-back pairing of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and midfielder Kostas Katsouranis were pulled apart as Tomáš Hübschman measured a pass between them for Jiráček to open the scoring.

Best goals of UEFA EURO 2012

The only goal in the three previous meetings between these two had been Traianos Dellas's silver goal in the UEFA EURO 2004 semi-finals. Jiráček's was worth its weight in gold for the Czechs. Santos had seen his team make a slow start against Poland, and had promised it would not happen again, but there was not even time for Greece to regroup before they fell still further behind.

Theodor Gebre Selassie's overlapping run escaped the attentions of everyone bar Tomáš Rosický, who picked out the full-back on the right. The subsequent low cross evaded goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias's dive and Pilař bundled the ball, and the unfortunate Katsouranis, across the goal line. After being roundly jeered by his compatriots among the crowd when his name was announced before kick-off, there was more than a hint of vindication about Czech coach Bílek's celebratory punch of the air.

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The sight of Chalkias limping over to the bench with only 23 minutes on the clock did little to raise the spirits of the Greek fans, unsurprisingly outnumbered by their Czech counterparts inside the Municipal Stadium Wroclaw. Chalkias's replacement, Michalis Sifakis, did his best to improve morale by turning aside a long-range Rosický effort, and when Giorgos Fotakis headed in Vassilis Torossidis's cross, the blue-and-white clad supporters erupted – before the assistant referee's flag quickly pooped their party.

It did not take long after the break for it to restart, though, as the Czechs unwittingly helped Greece back into the game. Milan Baroš dallied when a ball broke kindly in the box; Gekas did not extend the same courtesy, rolling the ball into the empty net after Čech allowed Giorgos Samaras's seemingly innocuous centre to slip through his habitually sure grasp. A similar gaffe had ended Czech hopes at UEFA EURO 2008, yet though Greece pushed for an equaliser, the Chelsea FC goalkeeper's rare mistake did not prove as costly four years on.

EURO 2012: Team of the Tournament


The Czech Republic line up for the Greece game
The Czech Republic line up for the Greece gameVI-Images via Getty Images

Greece: Chalkias (Sifakis 23); Holebas, Katsouranis, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Torosidis; Karagounis (c), Maniatis, Fotakis (Gekas 46); Fortounis (Mitroglou 71), Samaras, Salpingidis
Substitutes: Tzorvas, Tzavellas, Malezas, Makos, Liberopoulos, Ninis, Fetfatzidis
Coach: Fernando Santos

Czech Republic: Čech; Limberský, Kadlec, Sivok, Gebre Selassie; Pilař, Plašil, Rosický (c) (Kolář 46, Rajtoral 90), Hübschmann, Jiráček; Baroš (Pekhart 64)
Substitutes: Laštůvka, Drobný, Suchý, Hubník, Necid, Rezek, Petržela, Lafata, Darida
Coach: Michal Bílek

Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)

Man of the Match: Václav Pilař (Czech Republic)