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Czechs overcome Cech error; Hazard and friends fail to break down Wales

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Perhaps we can chalk it up to a lack of regular playing time, but the last two goals that the Czech Republic national football team have conceded have both come courtesy of Petr Čech's errors.  A little over a month ago, he flapped at a corner and Kazakhstan scored a consolation goal.  This time, he was beaten to the punch on a long throw-in and Iceland eventually head-tennis'd the ball into the back of the net.  Two glaring errors, especially in light of Courtois' majestic habit of picking off crosses as if he were ten feet tall.

Fortunately for Čech, the resolute visitors wouldn't score again.  Meanwhile, young right back Pavel Kaderabek equalized on the stroke of half-time with a well-placed header off of a scramble, and a lucky second-half deflection completed the Czech comeback.  It was not the prettiest 90 minutes of football you'll ever see -- these were the first two goals that Iceland have conceded so far in Euro 2016 qualifying -- but a win in the trenches is still a win and this one sees the Czech Republic remain perfect and atop a group also containing the Netherlands and Turkey.  Could this finally be a useful team for the first since the golden generation of Nedved, Koller, et al.?

While things are going swimmingly for the Czechs, the same can't be said for Belgium who were held to their second successive draw in Group B and have slipped below even Cyprus to fourth place (albeit with one match-in-hand).  With internationally recognized star names up and down the lineup, this has to be looked at as a disappointment, especially after Marc Wilmots' charges failed to break down workman-like Wales in a match-up that was billed as Hazard vs. Bale was decided (or not, as it were) elsewhere.

Hazard faded a bit as the game wore on, but was tremendous and brilliant and bright early on and toyed with the visitors' defense at will.  Sure, it would've been even more tremendous and brilliant and bright if any of his four shots or Belgium's 15 total found the back of the net, but the goose-egg on the scoreboard shouldn't completely overshadow his dozen or so breathtaking dribbles and generally scintillating play.  Meanwhile, Gareth Bale, isolated for most of the match, was Wales's only hope of ever getting on the scoresheet.  He came close a couple times, first testing Courtois from a precisely imitated (stance and all) Cristiano Ronaldo free kick in the first half then dragging his shot wide in the second (though the Chelsea goalkeeper looked to have that covered as well).  He also found time to clear a chance off the line.

Both Hazard and Courtois (and Čech) now get a nice, almost weeklong rest, while the remaining Chelsea international contingent play on Tuesday.

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