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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
The gloves are off in Portugal

By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

HOLLAND 2-3 CZECH REPUBLIC
Milan Baros grabbed the Czechs' equaliser
It is great for our confidence because we were 2-0 down and won
Milan Baros
It could be the game that comes to define Euro 2004.

It took just two minutes for the first clear chance, with Tomas Rosicky's sublime chip putting giant striker Jan Koller clear only for the giant to blaze over.

And from that moment two sides blessed with attacking flair went for each other with a fervour not previously seen at this tournament.

Two heavyweights finally took their gloves off and threw punch after punch until a late knockout ensured only one was standing.

The match ebbed and flowed and no amount of defensive substitutions - such as Dick Advocaat's disastrous decision to replace Arjen Robben with Paul Bosvelt - could stem the excitement.

The supporters played their full part as well.

The Dutch sea of orange rejoiced in their team's early two-goal lead.

But as the momentum swung decisively in the favour of the Czech Republic, the supporters in red could take credit for the role they played.

Vastly outnumbered, the Czechs jumped up and down in unison, waving their flags and willing their team on.

And for the Czech players as well there was a real sense of what they had just achieved.

"The second half was like a dream," Vladimir Smicer told BBC Sport.

"Sometimes you play in some really good games, but for the national team I have never played in anything like that and it is something special.

"I think it was very important we scored quickly after going 2-0 down because if we had trailed by that score at the break I don't think we would have been able to come back."

Liverpool forward Smicer scored the winner with just two minutes of normal time remaining and team-mate Milan Baros reckons the effect on morale is huge.

"It is great for our confidence because we were 2-0 down and won," Baros told BBC Sport.

"We knew we were in a difficult group but wanted to go through and we have done that - and in first place."

Baros scored a brilliant equaliser and added: "I'm delighted with my own form as well."

It's a nightmare for us
Marc Overmars

Holland should have had the match in the bag by the break, but by the final whistle they were literally on their knees, battered and bewildered.

Veteran winger Marc Overmars said it all when he admitted: "It's a nightmare for us."

After failing to perform against Germany on Tuesday and take their chances here in Aveiro, Advocaat's shattered team are on the verge of elimination with their fate no longer in their hands.

They must beat Latvia in their final group game and rely on the Czechs not losing to Germany.

But that is not for Karel Bruckner's Czech team to worry about.

They possess enough talent to have had many pundits tipping them as the tournament's dark horses.

Pavel Nedved, Rosicky, Smicer, Baros and second-half substitute Marek Heinz were all superb against Holland.

And in Koller they have a battering ram that allows them to play the long ball as a ready alternative to their flowing passing moves.

It was a combination of all of these qualities - plus an incredible will to win - that took them past the Dutch.

And so after a match that will live long in the memory, Euro 2004's group of death has its first survivors.





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