Netherlands 0 Czech Republic 2
In Frank de Boer’s eyes the Netherlands had the quality to win the Euros – “if everything fits into place”. Everything fell apart in Budapest, however, where a team supposedly improving in form and confidence suddenly self-destructed. The Czech Republic took ruthless advantage to march into a quarter-final with Denmark in Baku next Saturday.
Netherlands' defensive linchpin, Matthijs de Ligt, was sent off for a deliberate handball in the 55th minute and his country's hopes departed with him. The industrious Tomas Holes headed Jaroslav Silhavy's team head shortly afterwards and Patrik Schick slotted home his fourth of the competition as the Czechs revelled in Dutch misery. De Boer's players were whistled by their own supporters after the defeat.
A 100 per cent start with eight goals, the joint highest in the group phase, had rendered the Netherlands favourites to reach the last eight but Silhavy’s side had no inferiority complex. For good reason.
“Traditionally we always have difficult games against them,” said De Boer, who scored the 89th-minute penalty at Euro 2000 that gave the Netherlands their only win in four meetings with the Czech Republic at this tournament.
The Czechs had won five of 11 encounters in total, including the last two, and De Boer’s prediction of a tight game, in which his opponents would be strong in the individual battles and unafraid of going direct to Schick, was borne out while it remained 11 v 11.
Donyell Malen, the former Arsenal academy player preferred over Wout Weghorst in attack, almost found Denzel Dumfries unmarked at the back post in the opening minute. The right wing back has announced himself on the international stage at this tournament yet was completely unchecked at the Netherlands' first attack.
With Tomas Vaclik making an uncertain start in the Czech goal, Memphis Depay dragging defenders out of position and Frenkie de Jong polished in midfield, the 7,000-strong Dutch contingent in the crowd was enthused.
De Ligt could only head back across goal at full stretch when Vaclik and Tomas Kalas missed Daley Blind's cross from a short corner by Depay. Dumfries, sprinting across the pitch, latched on to another Blind delivery down the left channel and headed past Vaclik as the goalkeeper raced out unnecessarily. Kalas saved his goalkeeper by blocking Dumfries's attempted cross along the vacant goal at full stretch.
The Czech Republic were being forced deep and in increasing numbers, with three midfielders regularly dropping back into a seven-man defence, but improved as an attacking force of their own as the first half wore on.
West Ham's Tomas Soucek sent a diving header wide from Petr Sevcik's cross. De Ligt had been nutmegged in the build-up, much to the delight of the Czech support. Schick drew a comfortable save from Maarten Stekelenburg with a long-range drive before Antonin Barak squandered the clearest chance of the half when released inside the area by Lukas Masopust. Barak, opening his body for a left-foot shot on the right, skied the shot over.
The complexion of the game altered in the course of one highly eventful second-half minute. Malen, collecting a delightful flick from Depay, showed explosive pace to burst past two Czech defenders and found himself clean through on goal. The PSV forward opted to round Vaclik instead of taking the shot but the goalkeeper read his intentions perfectly and saved at his feet.
Suddenly the ball was down the other end of the pitch and De Ligt was letting it bounce between himself and Schick. It was a bad mistake from the Juventus defender, who had struggled throughout. Schick touched it forward, De Ligt fell as he turned and clawed the ball away as he did so, denying the Czech striker a clear goalscoring opportunity. Russian referee Sergei Karasev was advised to check his pitchside monitor and his initial yellow card was rightly upgraded to a red.
De Ligt, the fourth Dutch player to be sent off against the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia at a European Championships, could have no complaints. His exit left the Netherlands having to play a long 35 minutes in the Budapest heat with 10 men and despite De Boer’s bold substitutions Czech’s strength in numbers and in the air ultimately told.
The inevitable breakthrough arrived after Patrick van Aanholt fouled Sevcik on the left. Barak swept the free-kick deep to the back post where Stekelenburg was caught in no-man’s land and missed its flight. Kalas, towering above Georginio Wijnaldum, headed back across goal for Holes to power his header past two Dutch players on the goalline.
De Boer’s side offered little in response and the tie was effectively put beyond them with 10 minutes remaining when Holes latched on to a glancing header and surged past Wijnaldum and Dumfries. The goalscorer turned creator with a neat ball from the byline into the path of Schick, who swept a cool finish inside Stekelenburg’s near post. – Guardian