Czech Republic joined Brazil at the top of Group E after grinding out a hard-fought 2-1 win over Australia at Port Said Stadium. Playing their first FIFA U-20 World Cup match since their 2007 final defeat to Argentina, the Czechs rarely sparkled but did just about enough to merit victory against a Young Socceroos side lacking in inspiration.
After the thrills and spills of the earlier match between A Seleção and Costa Rica, this was a noticeably more tense and tactical affair, with precious few chances for either side. Kofi Danning's speed looked to be the most promising attacking outlet for the Aussies and, on 13 minutes, the Ghana-born forward caused havoc in Czech ranks with a piercing run through the heart of their defensive ranks. When his charge was finally halted, the ball looped up invitingly, allowing James Holland to set up Thomas Oar for a shot just off target with a clever headed pass.
However, the Young Socceroos failed to build on that early promise and had Dean Bouzanis to thank for keeping the scoreline blank nine minutes later. Jan Vosalik's 20-yard shot took a wicked deflection that was set to send it looping just under the crossbar until the young Liverpool goalkeeper got back to tip the ball over.
The Aussies were again fortunate to survive six minutes later, when a slick Czech counter-attack culminated in Lukas Marecek rifling a low right-foot drive just wide of the left-hand post. However, their luck ran out four minutes into the second half, when Michael Rabusic broke the deadlock, rising to meet Martin Zeman's inviting free-kick and sending a glancing header flashing just inside the far post.
Jan Versleijen had cited his side's never-say-die spirit as their chief strength ahead of this tournament and, sure enough, they quickly set about mounting a comeback. Lively left winger Oar led the charge, firing in a ferocious left-foot drive that required secure handling from Tomas Vaclik in the Czech goal.
However, with the Europeans defending resolutely and in numbers, Australian efforts came to nothing and they were stung by a late sucker-punch when Ryan McGowan conceded a penalty. The Hearts centre-half earned a red card in the process and his agony was complete when Tomas Pekhart drilled a perfect spot kick into the roof of the net.
James Holland did pull a goal back with a well taken penalty of his own in injury time, but it was of little consolation to Versleijen's side, who now face an uphill struggle if they are to succeed in their quest to qualify for the last 16.