Heinz stunner saves Czech blushes
By Graeme Bailey
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Dynamo Kiev star Maris Verpakovskis had given Latvia the lead on the stroke of half time, very much against the run of play.
With 20 minutes left the Baltic state looked as if they might hang on for an unlikely victory - but it was not to be.
Milan Baros - who could have easily claimed the match ball after missing numerous chances - blasted home to level, before, with less than 10 minutes remaining, substitute Marek Heinz flashed home a brilliant drive from the edge of the area.
The Czechs had been dominant in the opening period and were virtually camped out in the Latvian half for the first 45 minutes.
As early as the first minute Pavel Nedved was causing problems as his cross almost deceived goalkeeper Alex Kolinko.
Baros then pulled a shot well wide when well placed as the Czechs continued to press.
Nedved had a shot blocked by Igor Stepanovs, before the Juventus star created a great opportunity for Marek Jankulovski - but the left back could only blast wide after being sent clear.
Tomas Rosicky tested Kolinko with a stinging 25-yard drive, but the former Crystal Palace goalkeeper parried the ball wide.
Karel Poborsky then came close to breaking the deadlock as he cut inside from the right and unleashed a powerful drive, but the ball sailed just inches over Kolinko's bar.
The Czechs had began the half at a very high tempo and struggled to maintain it as Latvia sat back, happy to try and soak up the pressure.
Both Andrejs Rubins and Andrejs Prohorenkovs looked dangerous when breaking out wide, and it was the latter who was to provide the opening goal - which silenced the predominantly Czech crowd.
The goal came as Stepanovs brought the ball out of defence and found Prohorenkovs down the left flank with a brilliant pass - the forward then ran at Zdenek Grygera before pulling back a great ball into the six-yard box for Verpakovskis - who could not miss from just five yards.
The goal meant that Latvia came out for the second half with almost no ambition to attack.
The onus was on Czech Republic to break them down, and they again started positively with Nedved seeing his effort deflected into the arms of Kolinko.
Poborsky - the Czechs' most dangerous player - then clipped the outside of the post with a thunderous drive from the edge of the area.
The ex-Manchester United winger then carved out two great opportunities for Baros - but he could take neither.
The first came from an acute 20-yard ball into the area which Baros chested down, but he could only blast over on the volley. The second was a great chance as Poborsky weaved his way down the right past two Latvian defenders and crossed to the back post for the Liverpool star - but he somehow pulled his shot wide of the goal from just six yards when completely unmarked.
Vladimir Smicer and Marek Heinz were then introduced by the Czechs - as they went into all-out-attack mode - but that meant they would be susceptible to any possible counter-attack.
The Latvians' main danger man was Prohorenkovs and he came close to opening a two-goal advantage as he broke down the right and worked his way to the edge of the area as the Czechs' defence backed off and he unleashed a curling effort at goal which dropped just the wrong side of the post.
The Czechs were rattled but they kept coming at Latvia with wave after wave of attack.
Kolinko was called upon to make a brilliant save from Nedved, who thought his volley from the edge of the area had brought his side level - however just moments later the Czechs' dominance finally told.
Again it was Poborsky whose trickery took him past two Latvian defenders before cutting back a cross into the six-yard box which Kolinko could only palm down into Baros's path - and this time he smashed the ball into the net from 12 yards.
Czech Republic knew they could now go on and win the game and Smicer should have put his side ahead when Nedved's back post cross reached him - but he could only head into the side netting.
Marian Pahars, a second half replacement from Verpakovskis, then almost embarrassed Czech keeper Petr Cech who came racing 40 yards off his line - but the Southampton man could only handle the ball when he could have been clear.
Heinz - top scorer in the Czech League from last season - showed his credentials with a superb drive from the edge of the area which beat Kolinko but cannoned off the bar and over.
The Banik Ostrava star then when one better as he produced a great finish to put his side ahead. Jankulovski began the move with a ball for Baros down the left which Kolinko came out to claim, but he could only chip the ball into the area - Mihails Zemlinskis attempted to clear but the ball fell to Heinz who blasted an unstoppable effort with the outside of his left foot into the top corner.
The Latvians did not give in and Vitaliy Astafjevs saw his drive well saved by Cech.
The Czechs deserved their victory, but the Latvians should be applauded for their efforts which contributed to arguably the best game of Euro 2004 so far.
Had Latvia attacked more when they had the lead, then things could have been different for Aleksandr Starkovs's men - who will still fancy their chances of getting something from either Holland or Germany in their remaining two matches.
Karol Bruckner's side got out of jail in some ways, but they produced enough good football to suggest they can go far in the tournament.