Russia produced the sort of football purists dream of and gave the Czech Republic a lesson in moving the ball quickly, effectively and beautifully on Friday as they announced themselves as potential Euro 2012 challengers. By Mark Meadows.
Alan Dzagoyev scored twice in the 4-1 triumph in their Group A opener but little maestro Andrei Arshavin took many of the plaudits for threading the sort of cute little passes which give nightmares to cumbersome defenders.
Odds were quickly slashed on Dick Advocaat’s men winning the tournament but with a long way to go and a potentially tough quarter-final against the Germans, Dutch or Portuguese, they will have to keep this form going for a few weeks yet.
“The Czechs left some space which made us dangerous,” Advocaat, a Dutchman schooled in the pass and move groove, told reporters.
“For the first game I am happy about it. Andrei played a very good game. He worked very hard. He was very important for the team the way he can play.”
Asked if his side were now among the favourites, even before 12 of the 16 teams have played, Advocaat exuded the sort of realism which Russia will need if they are to avoid a repeat of their 2008 semi-final failure after being equally hyped.
“It is most important we won the first game. At the end is when you lift the trophy, not now,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on the rest of Group A – where Poland drew 1-1 with Greece earlier – rather than the final in Kiev on July 1.
The Czechs actually started the game the better, controlling possession until a quick break after 15 minutes had Russia in front.
Alexander Kerzhakov hit the post with a header, the closest he came on an otherwise profligate night in front of goal, only for Dzagoyev to coolly strike home the rebound.
It got worse for Michal Bilek’s men as soon waves of Russians poured forward with the ball almost always played to feet along the slick pitch coated with a shower of rain.
The moment of the match came when Arshavin – who seemed to have lost all his mercurial powers in recent years after wowing Euro 2008 – showed their was life in the Russian bear yet with the most effortless but the most destructive pass imaginable.
Roman Shirokov then flicked the ball over goalkeeper Petr Cech with another spot of brilliance to net the second and thrill a sizeable contingent of Russians inside the impressive bowled Wroclaw stadium.
The Czech border is not so far away from the Polish host city but it was an unhappy journey back for their army of painted-faced fans after watching their side show signs of promise but little more.
Vaclav Pilar’s 52nd-minute goal which made it 2-1 was well worked and briefly made a game of it.
They upped the pressure though and with the Czechs tiring, especially left back Michal Kadlec who was picked to bomb forward on every occasion but left dangerous holes, the match was put to bed in emphatic fashion.
The craft and the guile was still present in the move for the third but Dzagoyev’s thumping 79th-minute finish was a sign that Russia can also do power.
Substitute striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who could find himself in the starting lineup for Russia’s next match against Poland in Warsaw on June 12 given Kerzhakov’s wastefulness, then bamboozled the defence and buried his fierce shot into the net three minutes later for the fourth.
“We scored the goal but we were losing the ball again and our opponents punished us for this,” said Bilek. DM
Photo: Russia’s Roman Shirokov (R) celebrates his goal against Czech Republic during their Group A Euro 2012 soccer match at the city stadium in Wroclaw June 8, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall