Sunday, June 17
By Nick Ames in Lviv
A few weeks ago, Tomas Rosicky told me that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the current Czech Republic side with its predecessor from 2004.
That team, with the likes of Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller and Tomas himself firing on all cylinders, reached the semi-finals of this competition and played some scintillating football along the way – arguably underachieving in losing to Greece at the penultimate hurdle.
Now, a new-look Czech team is one game away from emulating that feat – thanks to an excellent, composed performance against a hotly-tipped Poland.
The host nation, playing in front of a fervent crowd in Wroclaw, were a whirlwind of purpose and endeavour for the first 25 minutes, but after Michal Bilek’s side had drawn their sting there only looked likely to be one winner.
For Wojciech Szczesny, watching on the bench as Przemyslaw Tyton kept his place in goal, there was disappointment and regret.
Nobody would have rated the Czechs’ chances eight days ago, after they’d been dismantled by an Andrey Arshavin-inspired Russia that, incredibly, now falls by the wayside with the Poles.
Even more remarkable is the fact that they completed the job without talismanic captain Tomas, who was absent with an Achilles injury that might yet see him ruled out of the quarter-final.
That would be a cruel blow for a man who takes the responsibility of his role very seriously – but his influence in the Czech dressing room is known to be vital regardless.
Such a turnaround in Group A might lend encouragement to an Arsenal representative in Group B. Robin van Persie and an embattled Netherlands know their task this evening – beat the Portuguese by two goals and hope that Germany beat Denmark.
None of the quartet are sure of safe passage to the last eight yet, and you sense there are more twists in the air.
I’ll be at that Germany v Denmark game here in Lviv. German coach Joachim Low was at pains to stress that the Danes will be a formidable opponent at his press conference yesterday, clearly mindful that his side are all but through in most eyes.
For Denmark, only a win will do – and if Nicklas Bendtner can match the brace he notched against Portugal, they might just get it.
Neither side trained at the Arena Lviv last night due to concerns about the pitch. I faced a race against the clock to get there to hear Low and counterpart Morten Olsen, having landed on a tiny domestic plane from Kiev two hours earlier.
It’s further out of town than any of the other Ukrainian grounds, and my taxi driver was far from acquainted with the route to this newly-build ground.
It was my second dash of the day – the first had seen an urgent diversion to the media centre in Kiev to retrieve my computer’s power supply before flying. I made both events by the skin of my teeth, so let’s hope it’s not a sign of tournament fatigue.
There’ll be no such issues for Robin, Nicklas, Lukas Podolski and - if he features - Per Mertesacker tonight. The Arsenal quartet have a pivotal night ahead, and you’d bet on at least one of them having a big influence on Group B’s final make-up.
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