Brazil and Czech Republic are through to the last 16 at Egypt 2009 after the 2007 finalists successfully subdued their South American rivals in a drab 0-0 draw in Port Said. The stalemate might have disappointed the 17,000 fans who had turned up expecting another Seleção goalfest, but there was much to admire in the defensive masterclass delivered by Jakub Dovalil's resolute Czechs.
The surprises had begun with the line-ups, as Dovalil caught everyone off guard by making five changes to the team that had beaten Australia 2-1 in their previous match. Arguably his biggest decision was in dropping Michael Rabusic, scorer of their opening goal against the Aussies, to hand Tomas Pekhart his first start in three months in the physically demanding role of lone striker. Sadly, it was a gamble which backfired badly.
Pekhart, one of the stars of the last FIFA U-20 World Cup, was forced from the field inside 25 minutes with what appeared to be a recurrence of the metatarsal injury that had kept him out since July. Yet although this particular selection choice came back to haunt Dovalil, the match as a whole could only be described as a tactical triumph for the Czech coach.
It might not have been pretty, but his defensive gameplan ensured that a Brazil team that had put five goals past Costa Rica did not manage a single effort on target throughout the entire first half. It spoke volumes that the South Americans' best effort during this period was a wayward 20-yard shot from Souza that sailed high and wide of Tomas Vaclik's goal.
The Czechs were offering even less at the other end, but with a draw evidently their objective, the onus was on Rogerio Lourenco's side to push forward in search of a deadlock-breaking goal. After the break, they did so with gusto, coming close in 58 minutes when Giuliano slalomed his way past three Czech challenges before firing a ferocious right-foot shot just over the crossbar.
A couple of minutes later, they came closer still, when Alex Texeira rattled the face of the crossbar with a measured side-foot volley from the left-hand edge of the area. As the half wore on, Rogerio went for broke by playing his wildcard, Douglas Costa, but it was to no avail as the Czechs held out comfortably for a share of the spoils.
The result leaves Group E's joint-leaders locked on four points ahead of the final matchday, with Costa Rica a point behind in third and Australia anchored to the bottom after two successive defeats.