The Republic of Ireland followed up their goalless draw against world champions Brazil with an impressive victory over one of the favourites for this summer’s European Championships.
Goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane brought to an end one of the longest unbeaten runs in international football, the Czechs having gone 20 matches without tasting defeat, a record stretching back to November 2001.
Leeds defender Harte, handed a rare start because Manchester United’s John O’Shea was excused for FA Cup duty, gave Ireland the lead when he fired home a 20-yard free-kick after 52 minutes at Lansdowne Road.
Liverpool striker Milan Baros came to the Czech Republic’s rescue with an 81st-minute equaliser, getting the better of Ireland’s makeshift defence to stab the ball past Shay Given from close range.
Robbie Keane was once more the hero, however, popping up a minute and 42 seconds into stoppage time to score his 19th international goal after good work by substitute Alan Lee.
Captain Kenny Cunningham had predicted this would prove a sterner test than last month’s friendly against Brazil and the Irish rose to the challenge with another morale-boosting performance in front of 42,000 fans.
Nottingham Forest winger Andy Reid did his international chances no harm at all as he put in an impressive 65 minutes, while Celtic’s Liam Miller played the final 20 minutes after Gary Doherty was carried off with an injury, and Lee made an impression with his strength late on.
The Czechs, ranked sixth in the worldby FIFA, had scored 55 goals and conceded 15 as they won 15 and drew the other five of those unbeaten 20 games, with France and Holland among the scalps, and they looked dangerous on the break.
The main threats to the hosts came from Czech captain Pavel Nedved, Juventus’ world and European footballer of the year, and the front duo of Borussia Dortmund striker Jan Koller and Baros, who were a handful for the Irish defensive pairing of Cunningham and Doherty.
Ireland put together a superb move after 27 minutes as Keane fed Duff on the left and he jinked his way to the by-line before delivering a looping cross which Kevin Kilbane headed just over from six yards.
Keane needed treatment following a clash of heads in the 28th minute and while he was off the pitch a Nedved corner from the left was headed down by Marek Jankulovski and cleared off the line by Hearts defender Alan Maybury at the far post.
Ireland breathed a sigh of relief as both Nedved and Koller were replaced at half-time, as was Chelsea-bound goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The visitors made four changes in the interval while Brian Kerr kept faith with his starting 11, and that allowed the hosts to get the upper hand.
Ireland were unlucky not to take the lead after 48 minutes. First, goalkeeper Martin Vaniak had to dive to his right to save Keane’s fierce shot and from Duff’s corner on the left Doherty headed against the near post. Morrison tried to follow up but the ball was scrambled clear.
However, Ireland were celebrating as they took a deserved lead after 52 minutes.
Morrison was pulled back a yard outside the centre of the Czech box and Harte drilled the free-kick through the wall and into the bottom left corner for his ninth international goal.
Baros hauled the Czechs level but Ireland’s persistency paid off a minute and 42 seconds into stoppage time when Lee fed Keane and he fired home the winner.
Brian Kerr was pleased to stretch his run to just one defeat in 13 games since taking charge.
He explained: “It was a very good performance; we played some smashing stuff in the first half.
“The second half was a bit more difficult, a bit more open.
“Both teams had chances but I thought overall we just about deserved it.
“We are going through a phase of redevelopment and will be ready for the very stiff challenges that will be ahead.
“We wanted good opposition to test the players – we’re moving on to a new stage.
“I’m giving players the opportunity to get experience and I’m sticking with some of the more experienced ones and trying to get results.
“I’m delighted for everyone we won.”
Other international results:
Estonia 0 N Ireland 1 (Healy 45)
Hungary 1 (Kenesei(pen)) Wales 2 (Koumas 20, Earnshaw 81)
Sweden 1 (Ibrahimovic 54) England 0
Scotland 1 (McFadden 57) Romania 2 (Chivu 37, Pancu 51)