Euro 2012 Analysis: Russia Blitz Czech Republic, What It All Means for Group "A"
Russia have taken the initiative in Group A after the first day of Euro 2012 as they produced a fine attacking display to annihilate the Czech Republic and record a 4-1 victory.
Kicking off after the culmination of the tournament's opening match, between the other two sides in the group, both teams knew that they could take an early lead—and give themselves a big chance of qualifying for the knock out stages—if they managed to pick up three points in this fixture.
Here's the complete breakdown of the best and worst of the second game of Euro 2012, and what it means for Group A after one round of games.
Flashpoints of the Game
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Russia made a great start by taking the lead inside a quarter of an hour, Alan Dzagoev drilling in low after Alex Kerzhakov hit the post with the initial effort.
It was quickly 2-0 when Andriy Arshavin's threaded pass found Roman Shirokov in the six yard box and he clipped an effort past Petr Cech.
Czech Republic rallied after the break and Vaclav Pilar pulled a goal back with a well-worked finish, running onto a through pass and rounding stand-in goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
Both sides had half-chances to score the next goal of the match, most notably Russian forward Kerzhakov who missed three great second half efforts on goal, but it was Dzagoev again who netted Russia's third, blasting in from close range.
Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko made it four with the final goal of the game, twisting, turning and finally blasting the ball past the hapless Czech Cech.
Players Who Caught the Eye
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Quite simply, Alan Dzagoev ran the show.
He and Andrey Arshavin had far too much movement, hard-work, creativity and technical ability for Czech Republic, but it was Dzagoev in particular who made the clever running and showed a good mix of quick, one-touch passing and an eye for the more adventurous.
Any fan of European football—beyond the Premier League and La Liga—will already have known of Dzagoev's qualities, but performances such as this one in a major tournament will quickly bring him to the attention of mainstream football fans as well.
Oh, and Dzagoev scored twice with fine, confidently-struck finishes.
In addition to the CSKA playmaker, big props go to central midfielder Igor Denisov who, without being flashy or spectacular, kept Russia ticking the whole game with sharp, accurate passes and by always making himself available to receive the ball.
His performance set the tone for the rest of the side.
For the Czech Rpeublic, Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek were the only real outlets in the first half as they showed industry and ambition, but sadly also a marked lack of end product.
Pilar changed that in the second half with his sublimely-taken goal, but it was ultimately nowhere near enough.
Most Disappointing Performers
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Czech Republic struggled during the game because, despite spells of possession, including when the game was tied at 0-0, they had a lack of presence in the final third and were unable to fashion any clear goalscoring chances.
Striker Milan Baros became hugely frustrated by this and resorted in the second half to going to ground and whining to the referee Howard Webb.
Baros has over 40 goals at international level but posed very little threat against Russia, coming off the back of a poor goalscoring season at club level.
For the Russians, Alex Kerzhakov had a good game in terms of his movement, link-up play and working the channels, but was woeful in front of goal.
He had seven shots, the closest of which came to scoring was his effort which hit the post in the build-up to the opening goal.
In the second half Kerzhakov sliced two shots wide with his right foot in the space of five minutes, before blazing well wide with his left just moments later.
He was replaced soon afterwards by Roman Pavlyuchenko—who promptly set up the game-killing third goal and scored the fourth himself.
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Russia played a fine game, tactically.
Aware that they possessed better technical players than the Czech Republic they allowed them to commit players forward and play the ball about in front of their own defence, before hitting them on the break wherever possible.
The fantastic movement of forward trio Alex Kerzakhov, Alan Dzagoev and Andriy Arshavin was far too much for the Czech defence to handle.
Dzagoev held the width at times but also dropped infield from the right, Arshavin did the same from the left and Kerhzakov both worked the flanks and dropped deep to receive the ball—whichever of them it was, one was always able and ready to receive the ball in space five yards in front of the defence, turn and play in one of their partners.
The Czech midfield couldn't deal with the runs behind them and the defence weren't solid enough to either hold a line or push out and close down without leaving gaps for the runners from the second line.
While Arshavin and Dzagoev tucked in, full-backs Aleks Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov raided into space, creating overlapping and crossing opportunities aplenty.
Czech Republic's main method of attack was a methodical passing build-up, but while they had good shape moving forward, they lacked presence in the final third and were not as technically proficient as they needed to be to play this type of game.
They will trouble the likes of Greece in their next game, but Russia had too much nous for them.
What the Result Means for Group A
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After matchday number one in Group A, it is very much advantage Russia.
They have picked up the only three points so far, plus they have notched up a very healthy goal difference of plus three after this first game.
The next round of fixtures sees Russia take on joint-hosts Poland, which should be a cracking match.
Russia will be full of confidence, but Poland really need to avoid defeat to give themselves a chance of going into the Czech Republic game with a realistic chance of getting through to the knock-out stages.
For the Czechs themselves, both they and Greece will be anxious to pick up a much-needed win next time out, and that game could really decide who has a shot at taking the second place in the group if Russia beat Poland.