A nervy end, but the Czechs seal Euro 2016 qualification in Latvia

Czech Republic 2-1 Kazakhstan

Euro 2016 Qualifier – Group A
Skontos Stadion, Riga
06.09.2015

After the fingernail shredding end to last Thursday’s qualifier in Plzen, the Czech Republic put their supporters through a similarly frenetic final quarter against Latvia on Monday night. Though this time they were defending from above rather than attacking from below.

It was a tense evening in Riga. The Czechs knew that if they picked up three points and the Netherlands failed to beat Turkey then they would definitely be heading to France next summer. Lose, or draw, and the stuttering Dutch and inconsistent Turks would be breathing down their necks with two games to play.

For the all the positives gained from their 2-1 comeback victory against Kazakhstan (resilience, willingness to change tactics and philosophical approach and, to some degree, strength in depth), the game also highlighted the negatives – such as an abject lack of creative thinking when confined in the final third.

Pavel Vrba realised that some changes had to be made. In reward for his game-winning display Milan Skoda replaced David Lafata at the tip of the Czech attack whilst behind the lone forward the pair of Josef Sural and Daniel Kolar were brought in for Ladislav Krejci and Jiri Skalak. A subtle change of pace and guile on the front foot, but a change it was. And it worked a treat too.

Inside twenty-five minutes the Czechs were 2-0 up and cruising. David Limbersky, the Viktoria Plzen left-back, opened the scoring after a well-worked throw-in routine down the left flank. Twelve minutes later it was the turn of Vladimir Darida to get on the score sheet and once again, it was created on the Czech left. It was becoming a night when those without a solitary international goal to their name were hitting the back of the net and a night when a victory by four or five was on the cards.

But credit where credit is due: 2-0 down and with his side there for the taking, Marians Pahars replaced both Gints Freimanis and Vladimirs Kamess, who were being bypassed with alarming regularity. The switch offered stability and Aleksejs Visnakovs continuously positioned himself in dangerous areas to offer a threat on the counter, something which his predecessor on the right-wing had failed to do.

Speaking candidly after the game, a number of the Czech players admitted that they knew that the score on Konya was in their favour when they emerged from the tunnel for the second-half. Not wanting to do anything silly and over-attack, they allowed Latvia back into the contest.

Arturs Zjuzins fired a warning shot, which drew a fine save from Petr Cech, but the next time the Gazovik Orenburg midfielder had sight at goal from range he – aided by a slight deflection – made no mistake. Fifteen minutes remained and it was, by and large, fifteen minutes of Latvian pressure. Pavel Vrba responded, taking off the impressive Sural for the more concerted Ondrej Vanek and then, with minutes left, Theo Gebre Selassie entered the fray to secure the result.

Qualification was secure, but it was a nervous dash towards the finishing line rather than the comfortable jaunt it should have been.

Teams

Latvia: Vanins; Freimanis (33’ Gabovs), Gorkss, Dubra, Maksimenk; Kamess (29’ Visnakovs), Fertovs, Tarasovs, Zjuzins; Rakels, Karasausks (66’ Cauna)

Czech Republic: Cech; Kaderabek, Suchy, Prochazka, Limbersky; Darida, Pavelka; Dockal (90’ Gebre Selassie), Kolar (54’ Krejci), Sural (77’ Vanek); Skoda

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 9th September 2015

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