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BBC Sport's Peter Slater
"Defeat with honour"
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Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy
"I'm proud of the boys"
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banner Saturday, 24 March, 2001, 17:04 GMT
Brave Irish beaten by Czechs
Pavel Nedved
Pavel Nedved celebrates after his first half goal
Northern Ireland 0-1 Czech Republic

A battling performance could not prevent Northern Ireland from going down to an unlucky 1-0 defeat against the Czech Republic in the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.

Pavel Nedved's 11th-minute goal secured the Czechs the three points.

But the Irish were desperately unfortunate not to have claimed at least a draw.

The superb Keith Gillespie and substitute Phil Gray hit the Czech woodwork in the second half and the visitors were mightily relieved to hear the final whistle.

Northern Ireland's defensive frailties were exposed once again for Nedved's winner.

Just like against Norway last month, the Irish blundered at the back to allow the Lazio man to tuck away the winner.

Stuart Elliott and Milan Fukal
Stuart Elliott tussles with Milan Fukal

That was particularly galling for Sammy McIlroy's side as they battled well during the rest of the first half.

The feared booing of Neil Lennon did not materialise and his first couple of touches were applauded by the home fans.

The Irish Football Association had introduced a whole raft of measures to combat the sectarian abuse directed at Lennon on his last appearance at Windsor Park.

The Irish tried to fight back and Keith Gillespie, back after an 11-month absence, magnificently led the revival.

It was the Czechs, though, who continued to look the more dangerous and Roy Carroll, playing his first international since his last-minute howler against Iceland in October, made a brilliant save to deny Jan Koller.

The Irish fashioned their first chance when Magilton fed David Healy and the striker's shot was saved by Pavel Srnicek.

Vladimir Smicer and Aaron Hughes
Vladimir Smicer outpaces Aaron Hughes

Back came the Czechs, who top Group Three with seven points, and Milan Fukal shot over at the back post from Karel Poborsky's corner.

Gillespie went on another mazy run, this time right at the heart of the Czech defence, only to be halted by a challenge by Tomas Ujfalusi.

The winger was playing as well as he has ever done for Northern Ireland. Just before half-time he sent over a great cross from the right which was touched away by the stretching Srnicek.

Nedved was living up to his billing as one of the world's best players and he forced a decent save from Carroll with a shot just a minute after half-time.

But the impressive Gillespie was denied an equaliser by the width of Srnicek's right-hand post in the 50th minute.

Jim Magilton
Jim Magilton beats Radek Bejbl

Michael Hughes, who was also back after 11 months out, crossed from the left and Gillespie's diving header hit the foot of the post.

The Czechs were no longer in control and the Irish sensed they might snatch an equaliser.

But Tomas Rosicky reminded Northern Ireland of the threat the visitors posed when his drive was parried by Carroll.

Preston defender Colin Murdock then did even better to block a goal-bound Poborsky shot after the former Manchester United player had rounded Carroll.

However, the Irish recovered to put in a storming finish.

Phil Gray was introduced in a double substitution in the 76th minute and 11 minutes later he was denied by two brilliant pieces of Czech defending.

Firstly his point-blank shot was diverted onto the crossbar by Pavel Srnicek and from the rebound Czech defender Tyce made an amazing goal-line clearance to deny Gray.

Northern Ireland: Carroll; Griffin, A Hughes, Williams, Murdoch; Magilton (captain), Gillespie, Lennon; Healy, M Hughes, Elliott. Subs: Taylor, Kennedy, Johnson, Gray, McCarthy, Nolan, Ferguson.
Czech Republic: Srnicek; Ujfalusi, Votava, Fukal, Tyce; Nedved, Poborsky, Rosicky, Bejbl; Smicer, Koller.

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Scotland captain Colin HendryWorld Cup pictures
Weekend action from qualifiers
See also:

24 Mar 01 |  World Cup 2002
Clockwatch: N Ire 0-1 Czech Rep
24 Mar 01 |  World Cup 2002
World Cup round-up
24 Mar 01 |  World Cup 2002
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