Poland start strong but lack width: Rosicky was injured for this game, and his lack of influence in the Czech midfield showed early on as Poland seized control of the game. In fact, after 25 minutes Poland had already racked up eight shots at goal with none from the Czechs in response, such was their early dominance. Blasczcykowski had the best chance, seizing on a Czech mistake but slicing wide.
This dominance was mainly due to Blaszczykowski playing narrow and driving infield of Limbersky, while Obraniak was notionally the left sided forward but was roaming the pitch behind Lewandowski. With little width, Lewandowski was peripheral in open play, often coming deep in search of the ball as Poland never tried to get to the byline and deliver crosses. Bilek instructed Kolar to drop further off Baros to help in central midfield, and the extra body allowed them to gradually take control of the match as they congested the space in the centre that Blaszczykowski, Obraniak and Lewandowski were utilising.
Czech Republic susceptible at set pieces:
Poland continued with this narrow approach from open play, despite causing problems for the Czechs at set pieces. Twice they managed to get a man free at the near post to flick on a corner, but missed the ball on both occasions. Obraniak’s set piece delivery was exceptional, and the movement by Poland in the box was good, but they weren’t quite connecting. There were clear signs that they had the beating of the Czechs at set pieces though, and it was strange that they didn’t adapt their strategy from open play to test the centrebacks aerially.
Czech Republic threatening from set pieces:
Whereas Poland weren’t learning from their set piece threat, the Czechs were. Despite being dominated in the first half, they grew into the game and recognised the threat they were causing from corners and set pieces. It was notable how they focused on this tactic when they saw the problems they were causing Poland, and while this didn’t result in a goal, it did lead to a point blank header from Sivok which was saved well by Tyton.
With all this susceptibility to crosses going on at either end of the pitch, it was surprising that the goal would come from a different route entirely. Poland gave the ball away in midfield, allowing the Czechs to break on the transition, and Baros laid it off for Jiracek to cut inside and slide into the far corner. At the time of the goal the Czechs were firmly on top, but on balance it was perhaps unfair on Poland who had dominated the first half.
A note on Pilar, who has been exceptional in all three matches so far, providing an out-to-in threat in a similar vein to Silva at Euro 2008. Even in the 4-1 loss to Russia he was a constant attacking option, and in this game he shouldered the burden of creativity well in Rosicky’s absence. Against Portugal he will be up against Pereira in behind Nani, a side of the Portuguese team which was exposed by Krohn-Dehli earlier in the tournament, which will be a battle to watch.
Poland can consider themselves unfortunate not to qualify for the knockout stages. They were generally unfancied prior to the tournament, but this was based mainly on the lack of competitive football rather than the quality of their constituent parts. The “Dortmund three” were already well known, of course, but will have opened the eyes of a few people who don’t follow the Bundesliga or European football quite so closely. In the end, throwing away a 1-0 lead against the ten men of Greece cost them dearly.
The Czechs proceed to face Portugal in the next round, and have done particularly well given their main centre forward is Baros who has been peripheral throughout. Despite this, they bounced back from a 4-1 opening defeat to Russia to qualify top of the group, and had the best outcome of group B possible – prior to the tournament they must have thought a game against Germany or a strong Holland would be all they could hope for. Rosicky is a big loss, though, as they barely edged passed Poland without his creativity and they will be hoping he is fit for the quarter final on Thursday.
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