Czech Republic 2-1 Kazakhstan
Euro 2016 Qualifier – Group A
Doosan Arena, Plzen
This year the Czech city of Plzen is a European Capital of Culture. Since January, the city, located in western Bohemia, has been putting on festivals, hosting artistic exhibitions and showcasing to the rest of the world that there’s so much more to it than the obvious connotations to beer and automotive manufacturing. But sometimes you need to embrace the old methods to move forwards and luckily, Pavel Vrba, still a hero in these parts, took a step backwards and in doing so helped the Czech Republic edge towards Euro 2016 next summer.
There’s a buzz about Kazakh football at the moment. Money is pouring in to the domestic game and this season has seen their champions, Astana, qualify for the UEFA Champions League, proof enough that the boundaries and times are changing. And it’s only a matter of time you feel before that transcends into their national side.
But despite this warm and fuzzy feeling that’s growing east of the Caspian Sea, the Kazakh national team came to Plzen to defend. Two solid defensive lines of players performed admirably and parked the bus with aplomb. They offered a threat on the counter and comfortably contained for large portions of the game as the Czechs went from left to right and right to left, all without ever really finding the way to advance into dangerous positions. For seventy minutes, everybody feared the worse.
Simply put, the Czechs had to win this Group A qualifier. With the Netherlands and Iceland locking horns in Amsterdam this fixture represented a great chance to add extra points on the board and capitalise on either a further Dutch calamity, or a slip up by the current group leaders. A defeat and Holland, and perhaps Turkey, would be entertaining thoughts of second.
With that in mind Pavel Vrba named a side that, on paper at least, could control the game and fashion chances. The trio of Borek Dockal, Ladislav Krejci and the debutante Jiri Skalak formed an attacking midfield three that could offer vertical threats moving forwards whilst further behind Vladimir Darida and David Pavelka, another newcomer, were the double pivot that could attack, distribute and defend in equal measures. But it didn’t quite work out like that.
Instead the Czechs ran into brick wall after brick wall. Unable to get any forward momentum they stumbled into barriers to no avail and failed to find any cracks in the defensive positioning of the Kazakhs. Soon, all they could do was go sideways or backwards. And then they fell behind to a Yuri Logvinenko header.
At half-time Jiri Skalak was replaced by Milan Skoda, Slavia Prague’s in-form forward. The emphasis on possession remained, but the formation had switched from a fluid 4-2-3-1 to a more traditional 4-4-2. Yet still the Czechs could go everywhere but forward.
Darida was hauled off after sixty-eight minutes of passing sideward as Vrba opted for another tactical switch, this time to 4-1-3-2. This time, it worked.
Instead of keeping the ball on the ground, it was hoisted into the air. It wasn’t exactly route one stuff, but it was a million miles away from the patient philosophy that had, so far, failed to make Stas Pokatilov sweat. Dockal crossed, Skoda scored. Sural crossed, Skoda scored. Crisis averted.
The victory wasn’t pretty, but it was gained. The statistics tell a tale of domination and in many aspects the game was ridiculously one-sided, but the Kazakhs played their part and held firm and almost pulled off an upset. But the old ways, sometimes they work wonders.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands’ rotten campaign continued as they lost at home to Iceland. Bruno Martins Indi was sent off for the Dutch before they conceded a second-half penalty, which was converted by Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea player’s fifth goal of the campaign proved to be the difference there. And in Konya there was late drama as former Jablonec forward Valerjis Sabala grabbed a point for Latvia with an injury time equaliser against Turkey.
Those results mean that if the Czechs win their next fixture (away in Latvia) and the Netherlands drop points to Turkey, we’ll be seeing the Czech Republic in France next summer.
Czech Republic: Cech; Kaderabek, Suchy, Prochazka, Limbersky; Darida (68’ Sural), Pavelka; Dockal, Skalak (46’ Skoda), Krejci (84’ Kopic); Lafata
Kazakhstan: Pokatilov; Kuat, Gurman, Maliy, Logvinenko, Shomko; Dzholchiyev, Islamkhan (78’ Suyumbayev), Smakov, Konysbayev (88’ Kukeyev); Nuserbayev (72’ Khizhnichenko)
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 5th September 2015