The Czech Republic reached the Euro 2020 quarter-finals Sunday after stunning the 10-man Netherlands 2-0 in Budapest thanks to second-half strikes by Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick.
The goals, a header by Holes and a clinical finish by Schick, arrived after Matthijs de Ligt was sent off in the 55th minute, and secured the efficient Czechs a deserved berth in the last eight against Denmark in Baku on July 3.
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Netherlands coach, Frank de Boer, who said winning the tournament was his objective, was left to rue his misfiring side’s failure to land a shot on target in a tense and often niggly encounter.
“You have to take your chances at this level, and we didn’t today, it wasn’t good enough, the players did not reach their usual level,” said De Boer.
Having emerged as Group C winners with a 100 per cent record after playing all three of their games in Amsterdam, the fancied Dutch were on the road for the first time in the tournament.
Roared on by boisterous ranks of orange-clad fans in a packed Puskas Arena, the only Euro 2020 venue not to limit stadium capacity as an anti-coronavirus precaution, it was the Oranje who dominated the opening exchanges.
On eight minutes, a floated cross by Danny Blind evaded Tomas Vaclik in the Czech goal but De Ligt’s header across the goalmouth was sliced well wide by Memphis Depay.
Then Denzel Dumfries, raiding on both wings, was released on the left soon after but, with Vaclik again flailing, couldn’t direct his header into the open goal.
But after soaking up the early pressure, Jaroslav Silhavy’s well-organised outfit, who qualified from Group D as one of the four best third-placed sides, began posing threats of their own with a series of dangerous counter-attacks.
Tomas Soucek, who took over the captain’s armband from the injured Vladimir Darida, glanced a dangerous header just wide at full stretch midway through the period.
Then Antonin Barak, fed by Lukas Masopust, blasted a left-footed effort high and wide when through on goal approaching the break.
Costly red card
Early in the second half, the advantage swung decisively toward the Czechs when De Ligt was shown a red card after a VAR review, moments after Donyell Malen burst clean through at the other end only to be denied by Vaclik.
Bayer Leverkusen striker Schick, scorer of all three Czech goals in the group stage, had put the Juventus defender under pressure, prompting him to blatantly knock the ball away with his hand to deny a goalscoring opportunity.
“Tactically, we weren’t that bad today, but suddenly one player skips away toward the goal and the world turns upside down, everything changed after the red card,” said De Boer.
With the Czechs scenting blood, Pavel Kaderabek should have got the opener soon after while in space in the area but saw his shot blocked.
As the game opened up, the Dutch were eventually punished for Malen’s glaring one-on-one miss.
On 68 minutes, a curled free-kick from the right by Barak was headed across goal by Tomas Kalas to the unmarked Holes who had time to place his header, and spark bedlam among the 7,000 travelling Czech fans.
Ten minutes from the end, Schick sealed the shock win with his fourth goal of Euro 2020, slotting home a left-foot shot at the near post after the rampant Holes pounced on a loose ball and laid on a clever cut-back.
“Holes is a defensive player but he scored one goal and assisted another, he performed 110 per cent, which shows the team spirit we have,” said Silhavy.
“It’s unreal, like a dream, it was the game of my life,” said the 28-year-old Slavia Praha midfielder Holes.
In truth, the Dutch, who scored eight goals in the group stage, had long been long stifled by the Czechs on their way to chalking up a fourth straight win over the Oranje.
“We were the underdogs today, and maybe before in the group stage, I believe we can still surprise Denmark, maybe even beyond that,” said Silhavy. (AFP)