The Czech Republic began Euro 2020 as a long shot and with a long shot. Now a team who may have been underdogs in every game they have played are quarter-finalists. Their unlikely challenge continued in hugely impressive fashion and potential winners were cast out as the Netherlands were depleted and defeated.
A tournament that promised much for them ended early. So did Matthijs de Ligt’s afternoon as he was sent off before Tomas Holes delivered a goal and an assist.
A close-range header and a low centre for Patrik Schick’s near-post finish may scarcely linger as long in neutrals’ memories as the striker’s shot from 49.7 yards against Scotland but they had historic proportions.
This was the first time the Czech Republic have won a knockout tie in a major tournament since they were semi-finalists in Euro 2004. It is Baku for them next and Denmark should be aware that it is dangerous to underestimate Jaroslav Silhavy’s organised, obdurate side.
The Netherlands were the top scorers in the group stages but the Czechs limited them to few chances. Holes was a major reason for that, policing the in-form Gini Wijnaldum as the Dutch captain could not add to his haul of three goals. Another was that they were down to 10 men after a match turned in a minute.
The Netherlands lost one of their outstanding centre-backs long before the tournament, in Virgil van Dijk. The other departed after 54 minutes. De Ligt had illustrated his defensive prowess with a wonderful intervention to deflect Antonin Barak’s first-half shot over the bar.
He was altogether less secure when he slipped on the edge of his own box and handled in a desperate attempt to prevent Schick from advancing on goal. Referee Sergei Karasev’s initial verdict brought a yellow card; a VAR review later and it was upgraded to red for preventing a goalscoring opportunity.
The Dutch could have been ahead; instead they were a man down. Immediately before, Donyell Malen ought to have given them the lead when he was released by Memphis Depay, with a lovely flick, but the PSV Eindhoven forward’s attempt to dribble around Tomas Vaclik failed.
Malen, who had been preferred to Wout Weghorst, was then the man sacrificed in the reshuffle that followed De Ligt’s departure.
The Netherlands never recovered. The combination of a tall Czech team and some fine delivery meant they always posed a threat from set-pieces. It brought the breakthrough against a Dutch defence who had lost one of their best headers. Instead, Barak whipped in a free kick, Tomas Kalas was able to head the ball across the six-yard box and Holes applied the finishing touch.
The Dutch had already shown fragility when they were outnumbered. Denzel Dumfries made a brilliant block to repel a goalbound shot from Pavel Kaderabek, a full-back who was able to get forward more after Malen went off. Then Soucek and Masopust attempted to add a second goal before the clinical Schick did.
Holes was instrumental again, breaking free on the left before picking out the Bayer Leverkusen forward, who slotted in his fourth goal of the competition.
This was nevertheless a win that was built on the solidity of their defence after they weathered an early assault. De Ligt’s day began poorly as he contrived to head the ball away from goal when he probably should have scored.
The marauding right wing-back Dumfries has been the personification of an enterprising, entertaining Dutch team and, once again, he was a menace. He made a remarkable run from the inside left position to meet Daley Blind’s long pass, heading past goalkeeper Vaclik, though he was unable to finish from an acute angle. When Dumfries materialised in a more conventional position, the excellent Vaclik denied him.
But while Depay was influential before the break, the Dutch were muted thereafter. The Czechs have sprung surprises in this competition in 1976 and 1996. Now they secured another shock.