Czechs bounce into last eight after Matthijs de Ligt sparks Dutch implosion

Patrick Schick struck again to send Netherlands home and book Czech Republic’s quarter-final place against Denmark

Frank de Boer’s conviction that the Netherlands had the quality to win Euro 2020 came with a caveat: “If everything fits into place.” Everything fell apart in Budapest, however, where a Dutch team supposedly growing in form and belief suddenly self-destructed. The Czech Republic capitalised expertly to book a quarter-final date with Denmark in Baku on Saturday.

The Netherlands’ defensive leader, Matthijs de Ligt, was sent off for deliberate handball in the 55th minute with the game goalless. A nation’s hopes departed with him. Jaroslav Silhavy’s team had been disciplined, dangerous and determined from the outset and those attributes prospered with a numerical advantage.

The outstanding Slavia Prague midfielder Tomas Holes headed the Czech Republic ahead shortly after De Ligt’s dismissal before setting up Patrik Schick for his fourth goal of the tournament. Holes was also involved in the game’s defining moment, the red card.

The Netherlands had nothing in response and were whistled off the pitch by their own supporters after the final whistle. Their conquerors, by contrast, received warm applause from the Dutch fans on a lap of honour that ended with them cavorting around the pitch draped in Czech flags.

“I am responsible and I need to take a look in the mirror,” De Boer said. “It wasn’t our best game, that is clear, but it wasn’t that we didn’t dominate. In the second half we had control of the game and created two opportunities but at the top level of sport details decide the game and in one minute a player slipped and our whole world turned upside down. We had to make it 1-0 then and we couldn’t do it. It is a hard lesson to take but I’m responsible, I’m the one to blame.”

Asked whether he intended to quit, he added: “Right now I am full of emotion and I need to reflect on it. When you feel you should reach the final and go out it hurts really bad.”

There was substance to the Netherlands’ tag as favourites in the game, having won their group with a 100% record and scored eight goals in the process, the joint highest. But Silhavy’s side, having qualified from third place, had no inferiority complex.

For good reason. The Czechs have a strong record against the Dutch and this was their sixth win in 12 encounters, and a third in five games at the European Championship finals. Strong in the individual battles, resolute when Denzel Dumfries attempted to prise them open down the flanks and threatening against 11 players, the underdogs executed their gameplan to perfection.

Matthijs de Ligt handles the ball in the incident that led to his sending off.
Matthijs de Ligt handles the ball in the incident that led to his sending off. Photograph: Tibor Illyes/EPA

“This is a dream, the best game of my life,” said Holes. Silhavy struck a similarly euphoric note. “It was one of the best and most prestigious games of my career,” he reflected. “Tactically we played a great game when it was 11 v 11 and 10 v 11. We never gave them any space to play and we were rewarded. We played as a team and with some great individual performances.”

The Oranje shaded the first half but the complexion of the tie changed in the course of one highly eventful second-half minute. Donyell Malen, collecting a delightful flick from Memphis Depay, showed explosive pace to burst past two Czech defenders and found himself clean through on goal. The forward opted to round Tomas Vaclik instead of taking the shot but the goalkeeper read his intentions perfectly and saved at his feet.

Suddenly the ball was down the other end of the pitch courtesy of Holes and De Ligt let it bounce – a bad mistake from the Juventus defender, who had struggled throughout. Schick touched it forward, De Ligt fell as he turned and clawed the ball away, denying the Czech striker a clear goalscoring opportunity.

“That’s a red card, that’s a red card,” implored Schick. The Russian referee Sergey Karasev was advised to check his pitch-side monitor and his yellow card was rightly upgraded to a red. De Ligt, the fourth Dutch player sent off at a Euros – and all four against the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia – could have no complaints.

His exit left the Netherlands having to play a long 35 minutes in the Budapest heat with 10 men and despite De Boer’s switches in personnel and tactics the Czech Republic’s strength in numbers and in the air ultimately told.

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The inevitable breakthrough arrived after Patrick van Aanholt fouled Petr Sevcik on the left. Antonin Barak swept the free-kick to the back post where goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was caught in no-man’s land. Tomas Kalas, towering above Georginio Wijnaldum, nodded back across goal for Holes to power a header past two Dutch players on the line.

De Boer’s side offered little in response and the tie was put beyond them when Holes latched on to a headed clearance and surged past nonexistent challenges from Wijnaldum and Dumfries.

The goalscorer turned creator with a neat ball from the byline into the path of Schick, who swept a cool finish inside Stekelenburg’s near post. The derision of 7,000 travelling Dutch supporters sealed a miserable day for De Boer and his vanquished contenders.


Andy Hunter at the Puskas Arena

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