Three thoughts after the Czech Republic's 2-1 win over Greece in Wroclaw, Poland.
1. Greece's defense was ruthlessly exploited. The suspension of Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen) and the injury to Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiacos) forced Greece coach Fernando Santos to make adjustments in the back four. Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke) served as an adequate replacement, but drafting midfielder Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos) at center back created problems. The 32-year-old added protection in a very deep midfield during the 1-1 draw against Poland, but the space he normally occupied was left vacant against the Czechs.
The relatively inexperienced Giannis Maniatis (Olympiacos) was not able to shield the back four effectively. As a result, Czech midfielder Tomas Hübschman was able to thread an exquisite pass through the middle of the defense to Petr Jiracek, who left Jose Holebas (Olympiacos) -- another novice at this level -- completely in his wake to score.
Holebas was dragged out of position for the second goal just three minutes later, when Theodor Gebre Selassie broke free on the right. Kostas Fortounis failed to recover in time, and Vaclav Pilar bundled the ball despite the close attention of the two Greek center backs. Despite scoring early in the second half, The 2004 Euro winners couldn't recover from such a crushing double blow early in the game.
2. Will the real Petr Cech please stand up? The Chelsea keeper only just reestablished himself as one of the world's elite keepers, winning the Champions League and FA Cup with Chelsea. But his 53rd-minute mishap, spilling a harmless Giorgos Samaras cross right into path of Fanis Gekas (Samsunspor), who promptly knocked it home, was more reminiscent of the Cech who seemed in steady decline a few years ago. Cech's blunder was similar to a mistake that led to his team's elimination at the hands of Turkey at the 2008 Euros, but a 2-1 victory masked his error on Tuesday. Next time, he might not be so lucky.
3. Both teams lacked creativity when it mattered. Gekas' opportunistic strike gave the Greeks belief. Forward Kostas Mitroglou (Atromitos) then came on to join Gekas, Dimitris Salpangidis and Samaras up front, but Greece had no one who supplied any semblance of creativity. The Czechs closed down the flanks, and Greece was restricted to pumping long balls into the box, a wholly ineffective approach.
On the opposite side, however, the Czechs also failed to capitalize on the space that was available. The 46th minute substitution of captain and talisman Tomas Rosicky left behind a huge creative void, and the Arsenal man's replacement, Daniel Kolar (Plzen), failed to control the game. Coach Michal Bilek must hope that Rosicky, who struggled with a thigh injury just days before the competition, will be available for the deciding match against Poland on Saturday. It's difficult to foresee this team going places without the veteran midfielder. The same goes for Greece. Qualification to the knockout stages is still possible, but its lack of guile in the center -- coupled with defensive issues -- will likely cause its undoing sooner or later.