United States 0 Czech Republic 3: Rosicky reigns as Czechs cut through Americans

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The Independent Online

The environs of the stadium, the sweltering heat, the bare-chested, beer-swigging chanting masses. It was like a frat party in Florida. The only thing was the Americans were facing the Czechs. And no one consumes like they do. It was no contest. It was the same on the pitch. What looked an even enough encounter in Group E was rendered a mismatch by the Czechs' dazzling attacking play and two stunning goals from Arsenal's newest recruit, Tomas Rosicky, who also struck the crossbar, and who linked throughout with a re-energised Pavel Nedved.

Together they were simply devastating. They cut through and outclassed the United States and passed the first test of whether they can replicate the verve that took them to the last four of Euro 2004.

But they paid a price. Another injury to Jan Koller, who missed most of last season after tearing cruciate ligaments, will bite hard. Koller injured his hamstring but the damage did not appear as serious as first thought. He raised a thumbs-up as he limped out of the stadium.

Koller would be some loss as he is crucial to the way his country play. In the absence of the injured Milan Baros, who should return for the next game, they looked even more potent with Nedved and Rosicky, who could be a star of the tournament, breaking from midfield and Koller dominating the nervous US defenders.

Among them was Oguchi Onyewu and, after this, maybe Middlesbrough will rethink their £2m bid for him. He was booked for his first challenge on Nedved and was then horribly out of position as Koller thumped a header, from a whipped cross from the impressive right-back Zdenek Grygera, past Kasey Keller after just five minutes.

Keller was the only American survivor from the previous World Cup encounter between the two nations, back in Italy in 1990, when the then Czechoslovakia ran riot in a 5-1 victory. Keller was on the bench for that match and probably feared a repeat of the scoreline.

The Americans have made vast strides since then, qualifying for every subsequent finals, while the Czechs have struggled to reach this far. This was the first time they have done since the split with Slovakia.

It was also effectively a last hurrah for a generation of their players ­ led by Koller, Nedved, Karel Poborsky and captain Tomas Galasek ­ who are all the wrong side of 33 and cannot expect to be playing in four years' time. They certainly looked like they wanted to seize the moment.

Still, the US almost drew level but Claudio Reyna's low, bouncing shot re-bounded off a post after beating Petr Cech. It proved decisive as Rosicky, a £7m recruit for Arsène Wenger, then took over. Collecting another poor clearance by Onyewu he took a touch 25 yards out and struck the most glorious of angled right-footed shots high beyond a flailing Keller.

Then, in the second half, he stepped forward again and this time crashed a dipping effort that beat Keller only to thump back off the crossbar. But it was not just about long-range shooting. He then linked once more with Nedved, who released him through the centre. Rosicky ran on and, as the goalkeeper advanced, he calmly flicked his shot over him and into the net.

It could have been more. Earlier a header by Tomas Ujfalusi had narrowly cleared the far post and then Koller's replacement Vratislav Lokvenc fluffed his shot after being picked out by Poborsky, who himself volleyed into the side-netting.

"I'd like to congratulate Arsenal on getting such a player," said Czech coach Karel Bruckner of Rosicky. No doubt Wenger would have nodded his approval.

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