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Lokvenc strike lifts Czechs

Saturday, 26 March 2005

By Ladislav Josef at Na Stínadlech stadium

[1] Vratislav Lokvenc's strike three minutes from time gave the Czech Republic a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 1 victory against stubborn Finland in a seven-goal thriller.

Koller missing

[2] The Czechs claimed their four goals despite being without Jan Koller, scorer of a national record tally of 34 for his country, due to a thigh injury. However, his BV Borussia Dortmund team-mate Tomáš Rosický ensured Koller was not missed, scoring one and making two.

Rosický influence

[3] Rosický created the opener seven minutes in as he rounded his marker and crossed from the by-line for Milan Baroš - marked by fellow Liverpool FC player Sami Hyypiä - to turn in. And it was Rosický who doubled the advantage in the 34th minute, as his chipped free-kick eluded both his team-mates and the Finnish defence.

Polák pounces

[4] Finland were only a point off the group lead at kick-off, and in the second half proved why they remain in contention for qualifying. Barely had the interval ended than stalwart Jari Litmanan acrobatically beat Petr Cech. However, 12 minutes later Jan Polák, winning his fourth Czech cap as a replacement for injured captain Tomáš Galásek, claimed his second international goal as he tapped into an empty net after Rosický beat two players and supplied the decisive pass.

Finland level

[5] But again the Finns responded well and on 73 minutes Aki Riihilahti struck past Cech, just as he had done for Crystal Palace FC against Chelsea FC eight days ago. And within six minutes another London-based player, Jonatan Johansson of Charlton Athletic FC, finished confidently to equalise.

Late winner

[6] Cech made up for those rare concessions with a miraculous save from a Shefki Kuqi header, and that proved invaluable as Lokvenc then shot hard into the top corner to give the Czechs the points. They will hope to win again when they visit Andorra on Wednesday while Finland return to action on 8 June at home to the Netherlands.

Vratislav Lokvenc celebrates his winner

Finland's Shefki Kuqi tries to evade René Bolf