Statement of Intent

I love football, but want to be entertained. The desire to win at all costs appals me, and the compulsion to prioritise not losing is almost as unappealing. If relegation is not an issue I'm happy to see the teams I support lose an entertaining match provided I know they've tried. Those expecting their team to win every match are deluded. The purpose of this blog is to provide reports on entertaining matches that I reckon it's worth your while watching. This is a prejudice free zone. Suggestions always welcome, particularly for non-European matches, and please let me know if any footage disappears. I'll read any comments, but life is too short to spend a lot of time discussing them. There's football to watch, after all. In case you're as dim as the fuckwit that contacted me this week, I don't own the copyright for any of the footage embedded in this blog any more than I own the air that we breathe, also widely available. Cheers. Frank Plowright

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Netherlands 2 (2) Czech Republic 3 (1)

June 19th 2004 – Euro 2004

Netherlands: Edwin van der Sar, Johnny Heitinga, Jaap Stam, Wilfred Bouma, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Clarence Seedorf (Rafael Van der Vaart 86), Philip Cocu, Edgar Davids, Andy van der Meyde (Michael Reiziger 79), Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben (Paul Bosvelt 59)

Scorers: Bouma 4, van Nistelrooy 19    Manager: Dick Advocaat

Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Zdeněk Grygera (Vladimir Smicer 25), Tomáš Ujfaluši, Martin Jiránek, Marek Jankulovski, Jiri Galasek (Marek Heinz 62), Jan Poborsky, Tomáš Rosický, Pavel Nedvěd, Milan Baroš, Jan Koller (David Rozehnal 75)

Scorers: Koller 23, Baros 71, Smicer 88   Manager: Karel Brückner

Referee: Manuel Mejuto González (Spain)

Why you should watch this match: The best match at Euro 2004

That Czech Republic team was a strange one. For every genuine world class individual like Pavel Nedvěd and Petr Cech there was a Jan Poborsky and a Milan Baroš who looked world beaters on the right occasion – here – and thoroughly ordinary week in, week out. In their first group match they'd been unconvincing in beating Latvia, but the only change made was the introduction of Martin Jiránek in central defence. As the Netherlands played Latvia next and were likely to do far better, this was a must win fixture for the Czech Republic with Germany up next. The Netherlands for once appeared a relatively relaxed squad with none of the internecine squabbles responsible for dividing previous Dutch tournament teams.

The indications of the game this was going to be came early. In the opening minute Tomáš Rosický lobbed a beautifully weighted ball over the defence to Jan Koller, who, instead of playing the return pass blazed over. It looked a costly mistake two minutes later. Nedvěd's foul on Arjen Robben by the touchline meant a free kick that Robben floated to the far post where Wilfred Bouma headed home unchallenged. Had he missed, Ruud van Nistelrooy, then one of the world's most lethal penalty area predators, was waiting to pounce.

By the time van Nistelrooy scored the second, Clarence Seedorf had already placed a long range shot just wide of either post, Cech had made a diving save at Andy van der Meyde's feet, and many referees would have given van Nistelrooy a penalty. It was still being discussed as Edgar Davids fed Robben, now on the left wing, who crossed into the area where van Nistelrooy had eluded the defence again. He tapped home.

At this point there looked no way back for the Czechs. Two efforts in the opening minutes had counted for nothing, and they'd been swamped since. Pretty well every tournament has one immensely skilled team of crowd-pleasers who occasionally look invincible. They sometimes depart the competition in a hard fought quarter-final. Think Brazil in 1982, France in 1986 or Argentina in 2006, but the world rejoices when they win like Brazil in 1970, France in 1998 or Spain in 2008. Twenty minutes into this game, the Dutch were looking like that team.

Then the Czech Republic scored. Philip Cocu, usually so safe, sent a wretchedly idle pass into midfield from the touchline just inside his own half. It was intercepted by Baroš, who sprinted ahead, circled Jaap Stam, and evaded Cocu before passing to Koller, the only Czech player who'd run with him. Koller's tap-in was almost as simple as van Nistelrooy's.

Johnny Heitinga thoroughly deserved his first yellow card for a cynical chop on Nedvěd as he cut towards the penalty area, and the Dutch were howling a minute later when van Nistelrooy was denied another penalty. Tomáš Ujfaluši produced a Squiddly Diddly impersonation of the first order, and the referee appeared well positioned to see it. Van Nistelrooy did try to stay on his feet for once, but when he eventually fell his reputation preceded him and there was no spot kick.

We're now so used to seeing Cech in protective headgear that when the camera closes in after he's tipped Heitinga's long range shot over the bar on thirty minutes, it's quite the shock to see hair. Seedorf had another long range shot from the corner and it was his closest of the match. Cech stood still, either supremely confident it was wide, or stunned at the power. Excellent saves followed, though, from van der Meyde at close range again twice, and he missed Davids' shot, but it hit the post. In between those Koller's audacious back heel inched just past Edwin van der Sar's post

Having been relatively untroubled in the opening 45 minutes, van der Sar came into his own in the second half, starting when Nedvěd slipped a ball across the end of the penalty area for Poborksy to run on to and try his luck. Poborsky had a stunning second half, winding the Dutch around his boots and displaying accuracy and imagination with his passes. He set up Nedvěd for a fantastic turn and shot on 51 minutes, well caught by van der Sar. Cech bettered that with an instinctive block from van Nistelrooy's header four minutes later. If there was a turning point, it was the tactical substitution of Robben on the hour. Advokaat sacrificed a player who'd opened up the Czech defence on several occasions for Paul Bosvelt, who played largely in his own half.

Vladimir Smicer almost equalised, but van der Sar made a fine reflex save. He could do nothing ten minutes later when Koller nodded down Nedvěd's cross for Baroš to blast home. From the kick-off Cech again repulsed van der Meyde's close range shot, this time with his shin. On 74 minutes Heitinga was dismissed with a second yellow card for pushing down the rampaging Nedvěd. Nedvěd blasted the free kick at goal from 25 yards and van der Sar did well to parry it, then excellently gathered Rozenhal's shot from the rebound.

From that point there was only going to be one winner. The Dutch attempted containment, adding extra defender Michael Reiziger, and it almost worked. Nedvěd hit the bar, and Poborsky headed the rebound over, but the quality of this match demanded a spectacular finish, and it duly arrived. Marek Heinz shot from distance and van der Sar parried. The ball bounced back to Poborsky who laid the it across the goal area beyond van der Sar's outstretched arm where a last ditch challenge from Giovanni van Bronckhorst couldn't prevent Smicer prodding it into the net. Even then the excitement wasn't finished. In the final minute Bouma fired a long ball into the Czech penalty area where van der Vaart, stretching to maximum could only connect with rather than control it. It sliced off his boot and past the post. And right before the final whistle Heinz's audacious try from a very narrow angle just shaved the post. As the camera circles the Czech players at the end they know they've just won a classic.

The UEFA stats for this match logged 21 shots on target, and that alone should make you want to watch more than the highlights above. All longer clips I found have embedding disabled, but the entire match is easily located for download, and 28 minutes of highlights spread over four excerpts start here. Germany were unusually insipid, so both teams qualified from the group. People still wonder how the Czech Republic lost to Greece, and the Netherlands less mystifyingly lost to a very good Portugal team.

Man of the Match: Cech. There are a lot of candidates. Nedvěd, Baroš, Poborsky, but without half a dozen excellent saves from Cech the Dutch would have won. The reverse could be said of van der Sar, but only in the second half.


Martin Adrians said...

The best match I've ever seen. Impressive.

Anonymous said...

is there any way to see the full match ? I can't find it anywhere