* Czechs through as group winners after 1-0 win
* Jiracek strikes after 72 minutes
* Co-hosts and coach bow out after losing their way
By Mark Meadows
WROCLAW, June 16 The revitalised Czech Republic
surprised even their own fans by reaching the Euro 2012
quarter-finals as Group A winners on Saturday as the hopes and
dreams of co-hosts Poland came crashing down to earth with a
Petr Jiracek's neat 72nd-minute strike sealed a 1-0 win and
sent Poland out to the delight of a small corner of the
rain-soaked Wroclaw stadium, where the majority of red and white
clad fans could only rue a host of missed chances in the first
Poland, so full of joy and youthful exuberance during this
tournament both on and off the pitch, can also look back on
wasted opportunities in the opening draw with Greece and coach
Franciszek Smuda said he was stepping down.
"My adventure with the national team is over," Smuda said
afterwards. "It is a bitter pill to swallow. We were too sure
about the possibility of winning. We had some opportunities in
the first half, we didn't take advantage of them and we lost the
The only crumb of comfort for the broken supporters, who
arrived for kickoff as huge bolts of lightning seemed to
foretell their impending doom, was that old rivals Russia were
also eliminated with a 1-0 defeat by quarter-finalists Greece.
Without a win in Euro finals, the victory they needed to
progress at the Czechs' expense looked difficult on paper but in
the first 20 minutes Poland should have had their neighbours
Gangly frontman Robert Lewandowski flashed a shot wide after
a good move among the highlights of spurned chances.
The Czechs, humiliated in their opening 4-1 defeat by Russia
and without injured playmaker Tomas Rosicky because of an
Achilles problem, came into the game as the half wore on having
weathered the Polish attacking storm and the driving rain.
Coach Michal Bilek has not been popular with Czech
supporters and striker Milan Baros, who set up Jiracek for the
goal, had even been booed by his own fans as their early
campaign looked in disarray.
However, the battling 2-1 win over Greece and the ability to
hang on against Poland and grab the goal when they finally got
on top has suddenly sent them into the last eight as group
winners with six points, even though they had negative goal
"We are satisfied because we beat a team that played at
home," said Bilek, whose side will face the Group B runners-up
in the last eight and will hope that does not turn out to be
"We weren't good in the first 25 minutes and then we
improved. We have been in difficult situations but have been
able to play as a team."
Rosicky's replacement Daniel Kolar was completely anonymous
during the match and the Czechs will now do everything they can
to get Rosicky fit but the skilful and lively Jiracek, as well
as Vaclav Pilar and Jaroslav Plasil, offer a decent threat.
The Poles should have come out for the second half raring to
go thanks to the wave of noise from the crowds who had made
trams bounce up and down en route to the stadium.
Instead the Czechs took the initiative without being very
incisive but broke through when Jiracek cut inside a defender
before beating goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, preferred to
Wojciech Szczesny, for his second goal of the tournament.
Tournaments generally suffer for losing hosts early and with
Ukraine also far from certain of progressing, UEFA will have to
hope the buzz and fervour around the nations does not die down.
The Polish fans did their team proud with a rousing
rendition of "Polska" towards the end and the applause for the
Czech victors as well as their fallen heroes was also a nice
touch, contrasting with the violence before the co-hosts' 1-1
draw with Russia on Tuesday.
(Editing by Brian Homewood)