After a brilliant performance against the US, the Czech Republic continued in its bid to qualify for the knock-out stage at the football World Cup. But, on Saturday things went far differently against Ghana. Forget about winning, or even eking out a tie: the Czechs were stopped dead in their tracks.
Pundits and World Cup organisers always said that Group E - with the Czech Republic, the USA, Italy, and Ghana, was never going to be easy - and this weekend proved them right. On Saturday the group was blown wide-open, Italy and the USA fighting to a 1-1 draw, and the Czech Republic suffering one of the shock defeats of the tournament. A 2:0 loss to Ghana. The score would have been far more lopsided had it not been for a stunning Petr Cech - the only Czech player on Saturday displaying brilliance on the pitch. Had he not stopped four or five clear chances, it would have been a blow-out. Afterwards, here's what Cech had to say:
"They were very well organised and they were waiting for counter-attacks. And it became much for difficult for us. That's what happened. In the 2nd half the game was broken and they were running up and down, up and down, and they created some chances. You know, we didn't expect this result, because we wanted to play well. We wanted to earn some points, at least one, and we wanted to win. But, we have our destiny in our hands and will now try and beat Italy. That's what we're going to try to do."
Certainly on Saturday the Czech Republic paled considerably next to Ghana, who showed verve and inexhaustible speed, always at the ball first. It also didn't help the Czechs that Ghana were able to score less than two minutes into the game, on a brilliant play from Essien and Appiah who set up Asamoah Gyan, who drove it to the far corner. The second half then saw what can only be described as a 'flurry' of drives, stopped by the Czech keeper again and again. Ghana even missed a penalty. But, by then the tide against the Czechs was so strong it was only a matter of time before Ghana struck a second goal.
What can the Czechs take or rather gain from Saturday's game? Resolve. To try and upset Italy in a surprise win. If they are to secure a definite place in the knockout stages they will have to down group favourites. Not easy at the best of times, and the team is still missing key attackers Jan Koller and Milan Baros. On Saturday Pavel Nedved admitted that their absence had already been felt:
"Koller, Baros, any team missing players like them would feel it. But, that's the situation and there's nothing we can do about it except fight on. It's obvious we're weaker without them. We've got to sum up the situation and see what kind of game we can play against the [Italians]. I don't think they're going to give us much room, or many chances, and there's only a slim chance we'll qualify for the next round. But, we've got to put up a fight."
Players like Ujfalusi and Lokvenc - who were carded - will also miss the next game. That means, once again, much of the responsibility will lie with midfielders like Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky - as well as striker Marek Heinz. Can the team pull together? Fans certainly hope so.
In the end, even a tie might see the Czechs through: but everything then would depend directly on the outcome of the US/Ghana game. A loss against Italy, though, will mean it's all over.
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