WROCLAW, Poland -- Here are three thoughts after the Czech Republic's 1-0 win against Poland, which gave the Czechs first place in Group A, with Greece advancing in second place and Russia and Poland being eliminated:
1. Give the Czechs some credit. Nobody would have predicted after its first game, a 4-1 loss to Russia, that the Czech Republic would come back for consecutive wins against Greece and Poland to (remarkably) win Group A. Think about what the Czechs were facing in this game: the absence of creative force Tomas Rosicky to an Achilles injury and a big disadvantage playing in front of a pro-Polish home crowd. The Czechs missed two golden first-half chances when Václav Pilar and Milan Baros botched wide-open chances in the box, but Petr Jirácek's goal on the break (off a Polish mistake) was enough to take the Czechs from elimination to winning the group in one amazing turn of events. Now they'll get to face the second-place team from Group B (likely Portugal or Denmark) in the quarterfinals.
2. Poland missed a huge opportunity here. Playing its biggest game in 30 years in front of a supportive home crowd ready to explode, Poland was lacking in ideas and consistency, failing to put together a consistent 90-minute game for the third straight time. The Polish midfield really struggled, and nobody had a worse game than defensive midfielder Rafal Murawski, who made numerous mistakes before committing the big one: A giveaway that sent the Czechs running (and then scoring) in the other direction. But Murawski wasn't the only Polish player who was off: Stars Jakub Blasczykowski and Robert Lewandowski had little influence on the game, and the Poles actually created fewer chances in the second half than in the first. The sense you got in this tournament was that their fitness was not good.
3. The Polish fans deserved better. Much like the Irish fans, whose team didn't match their overflowing enthusiasm, the Polish fans were ready to party and confident after the team had put itself in position to advance with a win today. But the Polish team just didn't show up in the way it needed to. After Euro 2008 co-hosts Switzerland and Austria both failed to advance out of the group stage, we now face the clear possibility that Poland (already out) and Ukraine (on the ropes) will fail to advance to the knockout stage in 2012. I've been in Poland during the tournament, and I'll miss the enthusiasm that the home fans had for their team. They have been great hosts.