Euro 2008 kicked off today in Basle, Swizterland. The Czech Republic faced off against the co-hosts Switzerland. Many pundits have picked Switzerland to get out of Group A. For myself, I didn't. In fact, the Czechs are my dark horse pick for winning it. Today, this morning for those of us in Colorado, the Swiss showed why the pundits shouldn't have gone with them.
What is that? They showed why they shouldn't have been picked to advance? But they generated more chances and better chances for goals.
It's true that the Swiss generated better chances. In failing to convert on those, they demonstrated on the pitch what we already knew on paper. The Swiss have shown they're solid but not the sort of team that's capable of putting away an opponent. They're missing that killer instinct, so to speak.
The embodiment of that was in the 70th minute. With the Czech Republic already in the lead, the Swiss had a golden opportunity. I believe it was Yakim, who came in at half-time for the injured Alexandr Frei, who had an excellent shot parried by Petr Cech. Swiss substitute Johan Vonlanthen was wide open and well position for the rebound. He only had to beat Cech who was still recovering from the initial save. Vonlanthen put the shot off the cross bar. The Czech's held on to the lead and won the game 1-0.
Vonlanthen was unlucky to not score on that chance. But add that in with the other opportunities and it's not a matter of luck, it's a matter of skill. In this case the lack of ability to put away a chance when it presents itself.
Other than a the last half of the first half, the Czech's didn't manage to control the game for long periods of time. They weren't generating shots like they needed. But they've been in these games before and didn't panic.
Early in the second half long-time Czech manager Karel Brückner replaced Jan Koller, who at the point had disappeared from the match, with 25 yyear-old Václav Svěrkoš. Svěrkoš went on to finish the one chance he had at goal. The Swiss failed to effectively clear from a corner. A header from David Rozehnal(or was it Tomáš Ujfaluši?) went over the Swiss defense. An unmarked Svěrkoš scooted through and used the outside of his right foot to put the ball away.
The difference in the match? The Czech's now how to put the ball away when needed (they won Group D in qualifying; beating out Germany and scoring 27 goals in 12 games). The 26-year old Petr Cech is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. It showed in qualifying with the Czech's allowing a miserly 5 goals in 12 games. And it showed today with Cech having several excellent saves and the Czechs blanking Switzerland.