Throughout Euro 2016 we will be serialising Rob Fielder’s marvellously comprehensive book, The Complete History of the European Championship. The series will look at the 10 greatest matches in the tournament’s history, recalling the events around the games and many of the wonderful players who have graced the competition over the years. We began with Yugoslavia’s fightback against France in the semi-final of the 1960 European Nations’ Cup and continued with England’s victory against the Netherlands at Euro ’96 and the thrilling quarter-final between Germany and Turkey at Euro 2008. Next up was the Denmark’s improbable victory against the Netherlands in the 1992 semi-final, followed by the helter-skelter encounter between Yugoslavia and Slovenia at Euro 2000 and Denmark’s fightback against Belgium at Euro ’84. Now it’s time for the classic between Czech Republic and the Netherlands at Euro 2004…
CZECH REPUBLIC – NETHERLANDS 3:2 (1:2)
Scorers: 0:1 Bouma 4, 0:2 Van Nistelrooy 19, 1:2 Koller 23, 2:2 Baroš 71, 3:2 Šmicer 88
19.06.2004 (19.45) Aveiro, Estádio Municipal de Aveiro, Att: 29,935
CZE: Čech; Grygera (Šmicer 25), Ujfaluši, Jiránek, Jankulovski; Galásek (Heinz 62), Poborský, Rosický, Nedvěd (c); Baroš; Koller (Rozehnal 75)
NED: Van der Sar; Bouma, Stam, Cocu (c); Heitinga, Seedorf (Van der Vaart 86), Davids, Van Bronckhorst; Van der Meyde (Reiziger 79), Van Nistelrooy, Robben (Bosvelt 58)
Sent off: Heitinga (75)
Referee: Manuel Mejuto González (Spain)
One of the best matches of Euro 2004, indeed in the history of the European Championship, took place when the Dutch faced the Czech Republic in sleepy Aveiro. Two of the finest sides of the finals met in a contest which had everything and lit up Group D in spectacular fashion.
It all began at breakneck speed as the Czechs twice threatened to take the lead in the opening two minutes, Jan Koller blazing over and Marek Jankulovski, their marauding left-back, hitting a tame shot after finding himself in a promising position. The intensity of the opening period continued as Pavel Nedvěd made a wild lunge on John Heitinga down the right-flank that handed the Dutch a free-kick in a dangerous position. Arjen Robben took the set-piece and swung the ball into the area where Wilfred Bouma was able to head in, completely unmarked at the back post.
Soon the Oranje were threatening to run riot as Clarence Seedorf came desperately close twice in quick succession, first from a free-kick and then from a fizzing shot as the Czechs struggled to live with their opponents’ pace and vibrancy. Before 20 minutes were up the pressure told as Edgar Davids played a superb pass to slice open the defence, setting Robben away down the left to cross for Ruud van Nistelrooy to tap in.
Now was the time for calm, to consolidate their supremacy, but the Dutch quickly offered a lifeline. A terrible pass across his own defence from Phillip Cocu, playing in an unfamiliar back three, picked out Baroš who sprinted through on goal. The Liverpool striker was initially held up by Jaap Stam but just managed to work the ball across to Koller who slotted into the empty net.
Still the Dutch might well have been further ahead by the interval as they continued to press for more goals. Van Nistelrooy had claims for a penalty turned down before Petr Čech demonstrated why Chelsea were prepared to pay £11m for his services with a superb save to deny Heitinga. Swiftly Seedorf sent another effort just wide and then Davids rifled a powerful blast which struck the inside of the post and bounced to safety.
The early stages of the second half were similarly action-packed. Andy van der Meyde drew a save from Petr Čech and quickly afterwards Edwin van der Sar was in action to keep out Karel Poborský. Van Nistelrooy twice forced the Czech keeper into action as there was no let up in the speed of the contest.
Perhaps with hindsight it’s possible to point to the withdrawal of Robben on the hour mark as a key shift in momentum towards the Czechs. The young winger had been a huge source of menace with his incisive dribbling, something replacement Paul Bosvelt simply couldn’t match as he came on to provide greater defensive solidity. That aim proved illusory as just over ten minutes later Karel Brückner’s team got their reward when Nedvěd steered a lovely angled pass into Koller, who chested down for Baroš to fire the ball into the roof of the net with a sublime half-volley.
That marked a decisive shift in favour of the Czech Republic and it was quickly followed by another when Heitinga was sent off for a second foul on Nedvěd. Now they pushed for a winner and came incredibly close to getting one when Nedvěd cannoned a shot off the crossbar.
Still the Czechs came forward, countering when Giovanni van Bronckhorst was dispossessed and feeding the ball into Marek Heinz. His initial shot drew a diving save from Van der Sar but, when the ball broke loose to Poborský, he feinted to shoot, instead passing to Vladimir Šmicer to tap in.
Even then the Dutch might have snatched a dramatic and deserved draw through Rafael van der Vaart but he couldn’t find the target and it ended 3-2. It had been an enthralling 90 minutes in which both teams played a huge part, but it was the Czechs who booked their place in the quarter-finals. The Dutch would need a result in their last match against Latvia to progress.