By Peter Smith
Starting with the football and on a busy evening of World Cup qualifiers, The Czech Republic got out of jail thanks to two late strikes against Northern Ireland in Teplice. With 88 minutes gone and the match seemingly heading for a highly disappointing 1-1 draw, Pavel Kuka met a Vratislav Lokvenc flick-on from a corner to stab the ball past Taylor in the Irish goal. Then, a minute into stoppage time, substitute Milan Baros collected a flighted pass from Tomas Rosicky, held off the challenge of Nolan before clipping the ball into the corner of the net.
Overall the Czechs deserved the victory against a spirited Northern Ireland team. What may concern coach Josef Chovanec was that just as the Czech passing in the first half left a lot be desired, the execution in front of goal throughout the match was woeful.
Kuka had scored his first of the evening in the 40th minute - receiving a pass from Karel Poborsky that evaded the Irish offside trap, the Slavia Prague striker steadied himself before cooly placing his shot beyond past Taylor. Czech joy was short-lived, though. Just before the interval David Healy found space on the right and crossed for Philip Mulryne to plant a deflected header past Srnicek.
The Czechs stepped up the pace in the second half and their attacking became increasingly frantic. Kuka was guilty of some woeful misses to put the Czechs back in front and it wasn't until very late on that he atoned for his errors.
The manner of the defeat was especially upsetting for the manager of Northern Ireland, Sammy McIlroy.. as he explained later, the underdog's gameplan almost worked..
"So close to actually pulling off, I think, a miracle result. Today, those boys gave me 100 percent commitment - the defenders were absolutley magnificent and our plan nearly worked. We tried to frustrate the Czechs and we were two minutes away from really frustrating them. I don't like playing that type of football, but when I'm in the position that I'm in with young boys, people injured, people suspended, I've got to go and try to play that type of football. But I think the spirit, the commitment, the young boys and the way they played today, we have got a future - I'm sure we have got a future."
The three points mean that the Czech Republic move up to 2nd place in the table with 14 points. Bulgaria are 3rd on the same number of points and but the top spot is presently held by Denmark on 15.
Moving onto tennis and the French Open.. second thoughts.. no point really.. all the Czechs singles players are out. So..
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