Milan Baros earned the man of the match award as he led the Czech Republic to a 2-0 victory over Belarus yesterday to maintain his team's 100 per cent start to their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign.
The Liverpool striker set up the first in the seventh minute for Karel Poborsky, the former Manchester United winger who scored a famous match-winning goal against Portugal in the Euro 96 quarter-finals on his country's way to defeat by Germany in the final.
Baros added the second in the 23rd minute from a pass by Lazio's Pavel Nedved to give the Czechs six points from two Group Three games after Saturday's 2-0 win in Moldova. "The match was tougher than we had expected," said the Czech coach Karel Bruckner. "In the first half, it looked like we'd score more, but then we ran out of steam and only managed a few breaks."
Baros, 12 days short of his 21st birthday, said: "I thought we came out strong and controlled play well. On the first goal I spotted Karel breaking and he really made a nice play. On my goal I just stopped and turned, I thought I could catch the keeper off guard by shooting quickly."
Though they looked slightly better in the second half, Belarus hardly threatened as Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech kept his second clean sheet in five days.
Referee Helmut Fleischer briefly suspended the match in the 76th minute when six firecrackers landed on the pitch, covering the Stinadla stadium in thick smoke.
Russia also maintained their impressive start with another high-scoring performance, beating Albania 4-1 in Volgograd. Sergei Semak scored twice, with more goals from Alexander Kerzhakov and Victor Onopko, although the Albanians were on level teams at 1-1 after Klodian Duro's early equaliser.
The Russians mostly dominated a game played on a soggy Rotor Stadium pitch to maintain a 100 per cent record in Group 10. Kerzhakov, the Russian league's top scorer this season, put the home side in front with a fine header from a right-wing cross.
Albania equalised through Duro 11 minutes later when he surprised the Russian keeper Sergei Ovchinnikov from outside the box. Duro had a chance to put Albania ahead in the 38th minute after a mishap in the Russian defence but Ovchinnikov saved well.
Three minutes later Russia went ahead for good after Semak beat goalkeeper Foto Strakosha with a low shot. Onopko, playing in his 104th game for Russia, made it 3-1 with a 51st-minute header from a corner and Semak finished off the visitors two minutes later.
Russia beat Ireland 4-2 last month and might have been further ahead of Mick McCarthy's men had their game against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday not been abandoned because of a power failure.
Meanwhile, the Georgian and Russian governing bodies have agreed that the teams will not replay their abandoned qualifying match this year.
Saturday's game at the Lokomotiv stadium in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, ended after a power failure late in the first half. Russia refused Georgia's offer to replay the next day, citing the need to prepare for Wednesday's qualifier against Albania. Russia also opposed playing on 20 November.
Bulgaria cruised to a 2-1 win over Andorra to strengthen their leading position in Group Eight after winning all three matches. The Bulgarians dominated and missed several chances, but a lack of concentration at times allowed the ultra-defensive visitors to score their first goal in the qualifying campaign.
Georgi Chilikov, winning his third cap, scored Bulgaria's opening goal, set up by Georgi Peev, in the 37th minute.
The Bulgaria captain and playmaker Krassimir Balakov, who had not fully recovered from a stomach muscle injury, sealed the victory 14 minutes into the second half from a free kick, striking the ball with his left foot over the wall and into the upper left corner.
Andorra's Tony Lima surprised the home side when he headed in from a corner nine minutes from time, only to be sent off two minutes later for a foul on Vladimir Manchev.
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