On we move to the second round of fixtures at Euro 2012 after a whirlwind four days that have delighted, and on occasion shocked, the footballing world.
It is time for Group A to step into the spotlight once again today, where we could see the first nation seal its progression into the quarterfinals.
We are of course talking about Dick Advocaat’s Russia side, who have produced one of the most impressive performances of the tournament so far.
They will, however, have to overcome co-hosts Poland, who will feel they have a point to prove after a tame second-half showing first time round.
In the opening game of the summer they were perhaps fortunate to escape with a point from their meeting with Greece, who take on the Czech Republic in today’s other game.
After dismantling what seemed a weak Czech Republic side with little confidence, Russia seem certain to make it to the next round as group winners.
The 4-1 victory all more impressive considering the amount of chances spurned by Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who should be replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko but won’t be, according to the man at the top.
The ex-Tottenham Hotspur set up one and scored himself in Friday’s brief cameo, putting himself right to the head of the queue—or so you would’ve thought.
It was, however, Alan Dzagoev who stole the headlines, the 22-year-old adding to his four goals in eight qualifying matches by netting a brace in tournament proper.
Fluidity and a quick pace of play is what the Russians are based on, and according to The Sun Advocaat has issued an ominous warning to his rivals: "We’ll play in the same way as we did against the Czechs and we can only get better."
“It is too early to say we are one of the favourites," Advocaat said. “Let’s make the quarter-finals first.
“But we have a team for the future,” he added.
That team for the future could heap yet more misery on Poland later today, who let a one goal lead slip after firing out of the blocks last week.
One worry for Franciszek Smuda is the alarming over reliance on Robert Lewandowski, while second choice ‘keeper Przemyslaw Tyton will deputise for the suspended Wojciech Szczesny.
Lewandowski’s Borussia Dortmund teammate Jakub Blaszczykowski did his level best to offer him support in the final third, but others will need to stand up and be counted if they are to get their first ever win at a European Championship finals.
A loss would seriously dent any hopes of progression. However, with one game to go they would not be extinguished all together, and Smuda seems remarkably calm, per BBC Sport:
"That psychological burden on the players from before the tournament has gone and in the next match we will not be under the same kind of pressure," Smuda said.
"I had never considered this game to be a special one, other than the fact it is a great fixture, and it might be a great spectacle for the fans.
"The most important thing is not to lose. We have not lost to Russia for a long time [since 1996].
“Hopefully it will stay this way."
First up, though, is the encounter in the Municipal Stadium, Wroclaw, where Greece or the Czech Republic can ease huge pressure off themselves while placing it on Poland with victory.
The Greeks, who knocked today’s rivals out in the semifinals during their successful 2004 jaunt, are alarmingly short of defenders, though.
Both Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Avraam Papadopoulos are ruled out, with suspension and injury respectively, immediately putting the Czechs in an advantageous situation.
After a frustratingly poor first half against Poland, Greece turned it around and should perhaps have won it with Giorgos Karagounis’ penalty, which was expertly saved by Tyton.
The Czech Republic, though, will also be keen to show they are no pushovers by avoiding the unwanted tag of becoming the first country to concede three goals or more in four successive European Championship matches.
At times against Russia they left large spaces, and often looked bereft of ideas going forward—something that will have to be rectified quickly.
Don’t expect a classic, but this game could just be crucial in deciding the outcome of Group A.
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