The Czech Republic have caused the biggest upset so far at the European Football Championship, after knocking the Netherlands out on Sunday evening. Their impressive 2:0 victory in Budapest sets up a game against Denmark for a place in the semi-finals.
The Czech Republic, a team of few big names, only won one game in their group at the Euros and made it into the knockout stage as one of the best-placed runners-up.
Their opponents in the round of 16 were the Dutch, who by contrast had won all their group games and scored a hatful of goals.
But, in front of thousands of travelling fans in Budapest on Sunday evening, the Czechs defied the odds to beat the Netherlands 2:0, for what the BBC has described as the shock of the tournament so far.
The game turned on a dramatic few minutes early in the second half, when Czech keeper Tomáš Vaclík made a crucial intervention just before Dutch defender De Ligt was sent off for handball at the other end.
Not long afterwards Tomáš Holeš completed a well-worked corner routine to give the Czechs the lead. Later a driving run from the same player helped create a second goal for Patrik Schick, bringing his tally at the Euros to four in four.
Schick put the victory down to the closeness in the Czech ranks.
“Today the most important thing isn’t how good a footballer you are. Perhaps they play better football and are better than us. But we really showed team spirit and dedication. We helped one another – that was the key thing. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved. I don’t think anybody believed we’d reach the quarter-finals.”
Coach Jaroslav Šilhavý was full of praise for his charges after the game.
“It was a great performance. The mood in the dressing room is great. I’m delighted, and not just that we overcame a very strong opponent – we managed all aspects of the game. We waited for our chances. They went down to 10 men, and we got one goal and then another. This team is strong. We’re not among the favourites, but it’s the work we put in that delivers results.”
Captain Tomáš Souček of West Ham paid tribute to the Czech fans, who were in full voice in the stands in Budapest.
“That’s what games should be like: nearly 70,000 fans, many of whom came from the Czech Republic – it’s six or seven hours away. They really supported us a lot and we’re glad we’ve been able to pay them back, either at their TV screens or elsewhere. The support means a lot to us, and I’m really proud of the guys for their performance today.”
The Czech Republic will now face Denmark in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday for a place in the last four.