The Czech football team have gotten off to a poor start in their campaign to reach the 2006 World Cup, losing 2:0 to the Netherlands in Amsterdam. The two countries have met several times in recent years, but there was no danger of over-familiarity on Wednesday night: the Czechs fielded a makeshift midfield, in the absence of captain Pavel Nedved and other old hands Smicer, Galasek and Poborsky, while Holland's new manager has ditched most of their squad from Euro 2004.
The Czech Republic - captained by Jan Koller - began brightly, with the best of their chances falling to Tomas Rosicky, who had a low shot blocked by Dutch goalkeeper Van der Sar. Czech striker Milan Baros - not at his best - was also denied by the excellent Van der Sar, before a defensive error by Rene Bolf left Van der Vaart in acres of space - there was nothing Czech goalie Petr Cech could do to prevent Van Hooijdonk putting the hosts 1:0 up.
While the Czechs managed a famous comeback against Holland at Euro 2004, a turnaround was beyond them on Wednesday, with a Koller header which rebounded off the bar one of their few decent chances in the second half. When another mistake allowed Van Hooijdonk in for a second goal on 85 minutes it was game over.
After the match Czech manager Karel Bruckner was reluctant to apportion blame, though he did describe unpunished shirt-pulling by the Dutch as a disgrace. And it was only the first game of a long qualifying campaign. But the Czechs will have to get their form back - and hope the inspirational Nedved doesn't retire - if their fans are to enjoy the "local" World Cup in Germany in two years time.
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