With the away-goals rule in effect, Czech Republic would have been satisfied with keeping a clean sheet and scoring once in the first leg of their UEFA EURO 2012 play-off at home to Montenegro. And that’s what the combination of Petr Cech’s reflexes and Vaclav Pilar’s 63rd-minute screamer seemed destined to earn Michal Bilek’s team with 92 minutes on the clock in Prague.
However, satisfaction was transformed into jubilation for the men in red moments later. Tomas Rosicky, who masterfully crafted the opener, curled a free-kick into the Montenegrin box, and Tomas Sivok headed it inside Mladen Bozovic’s right-hand post to bank a 2-0 win that left the Czechs with one foot in Poland and Ukraine.
"It's the ideal result for us,” enthused Chelsea goalkeeper Cech. “If someone had offered us that before kick-off, we would have signed for it straight away. The second goal at the end was great, as 1-0 is different to 2-0."
If someone had offered us that before kick-off, we would have signed for it straight away. The second goal at the end was great, as 1-0 is different to 2-0.
Czech Republic looked the better side in the first half but failed to convert any of their opportunities, before Montenegro had a dominant spell in the first 15 minutes of the second in which Cech pulled off three superb saves to keep the deadlock intact.
The 29-year-old former Rennes goalkeeper said: “We didn't take our chances in the first half. [We] said that we needed to be patient, not give them any chances, and wait for our chance to score. We knew that their attacking play is brilliant, and that they don't need much space to create a chance. We gave them space at the start of the second half. They had their chances at the start of the second half. We got ours and scored.”
Cech, who has won four Czech Footballer of the Year awards, including the last three, is now optimistic his country will maintain their record of having qualified for every UEFA European Championship since gaining independence in 1993.
“We know that they have nothing to lose, they have to score at least two goals and they'll go for it,” he said. “It's going to be a test for us, but I hope that with the advantage that we have now, we're going to make it."
Montenegro will welcome Czech Republic, who finished runners-up to Germany at EURO 1996, to Podgorica for the concluding leg of their play-off on Tuesday.