Euro 2012: Russia's Underrated Pavlyuchenko Highlights His Credentials
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Russia's win over the Czech Republic was a pleasing reminder of their capabilities for those of us so charmed by their similarly fluid and attacking displays at Euro 2008.
Whatever the reasons were, so many of this squad were then unable to achieve qualification for the 2010 World Cup, in the here and now their opening match 4-1 win showed a country keen to make up for lost time.
None perhaps more so than forward Roman Pavlyuchenko.
While Andrey Arshavin has rightly drawn praise for his own bright performance, with Alan Dzagoev also being applauded for an impressive two-goal display, it was the Lokomotiv Moscow man's second-half introduction that sealed Russia's win after the Czech's had brought the game back to 2-1.
Since the last European Championships, Pavlyuchenko has spent much of the intervening four years in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur, a reported £14 million move prompted by his strong showings at that tournament and in internationals past.
Joining from Spartak Moscow, it was a chance for the Russian to prove himself in one of Europe's top footballing countries.
The striker grabbed the opportunity to a certain extent, hitting a respectable 42 goals in all competitions whilst making timely and valuable contributions for Spurs at various points during his stay.
Notably Pavlyuchenko was a significant contributor (along with Gareth Bale) in re-energising his team's push for Champions League qualification in 2009/10, before he was one of several players to excel in several of their group stage displays in the competition the following season. The Russian's six goals in the 2008/09 Carling Cup campaign were also a driving factor in Spurs' run to the final that season too.
Yet these intermittent periods of personal success were too often tempered by frustrating periods on the sidelines as Pavlyuchenko was never able to establish a constructive working relationship with Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager often (and bafflingly) leaving him out in the cold.
Despite establishing a strong relationship with the Spurs fans (whose support and calls for his starting prompted that run in 09/10), the need for first team football to ensure he was part of Dick Advocaat's Euro 2012 squad led to the 30-year-old moving back to Russia with Lokomotiv this past January.
That decision paid off with his inclusion, and now Pavlyuchenko is evidently in the mood to prove his critics wrong and reiterate his credentials as one of Europe's most effective front-men.
The attributes that make him so dangerous in his position were fully on display against the Czech Republic.
His goal, Russia's fourth, spoke volumes about Pavlyuchenko's instincts in working himself into goalscoring positions as he twisted and turned whilst pushing the Czech defence onto the back-foot. Possibly it said even more about his extraordinary finishing, his fabulous strike beyond the reach of Petr Cech confirming the move as an early goal of the tournament contender.
Just as indicative of his ability was his assist for Dzagoev's second.
Something Spurs have missed in his absence was Pavlyuchenko's movement and willingness to link up with team-mates, fully in the knowledge that this can be just as vital to a striker's play as scoring goals themselves.
Against the Czechs he pulled away from the nearest defender, reacting to a loose ball with a first-time pass into the path of Dzagoev whose fine first-touch then allowed him to blast pass Cech.
Advocaat now faces an interesting dilemma for his team's next game against Poland.
Has Pavlyuchenko done enough to win a starting spot? Or will the manager persevere with Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who was wasteful against the Czechs but has been so consistently impressive with Zenit St. Petersburg in recent seasons?
Its not a bad decision to have to make. Should Advocaat stick with Kerzhakov, he will at least be grateful to have a hungry and talented individual waiting in the wings to make his contribution when needed.
Russia have got off to as good a start as they could have hoped for, and having seen what we have of Poland and Greece too, should be strong strong enough to progress from Group A.
They look a team more than capable of giving Europe's best a tough test, and will provide for some interesting matchups against whoever they may face beyond the group stage.
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