Russia opened their Euro 2012 campaign with an outstanding display of attacking football and cruised to a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic, at the Municipal Stadium in Wraclow on Friday.
Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov scored in the first quarter of the game to put Dick Advocaat's side in a commanding position. Vaclav Pilar pulled a goal back for the Czechs after the break but Dzagoev and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko scored inside the last 12 minutes to seal a deserved and highly impressive victory for the Russians.
The match started at a terrific pace, with an interesting 4-3-3 v 4-2-3-1 battle. However as play opened up, Russia proved the better side, with a much more organised defence and power-packed attack that looked menacing every time they got forward.
After surviving a couple of Czech attacks at the start, the Russians opened the scoring in the 15th minute, when Dzagoev latched on to a rebound from striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov's header, which hit the post. Dzagoev then missed a glorious chance when he shot wide from a one-one-one situation but Shirokov doubled the lead in the 24th minute, when he collected Andrey Arshavin's through ball and chipped it over the rushing Petr Cech.
Despite the Russian dominance in the first half, Michel Bilek's men reduced the deficit seven minutes after the break, when Vaclav Pilar collected Jaroslav Plasil's pass and placed it past Vyacheslav Malafeev.
However, the Russians kept their cool and sealed the win 12 minutes from time as Dzagoev fired home after being found in the zone by Pavlyuchenko. The former Tottenham man also joined the party with a stinging shot from the edge of the area with eight minutes to go, after wrong-footing Czech defenders with a neat display of trickery.
Advocaat's Spanish Philosophy
After Spain achieved Euro and World Cup glory with a team dominated by Barcelona players and the Catalan approach, many national team coaches attempted to maintain strong club connections in their side and few are doing that better than Advocaat. It is no coincidence that Kerzhakov, Arshavin, Shirokov, Zyryanov and Denisov play together at club level. Similarly, the side also boasts a raft of players from CSKA Moscow, chief among them being Dzagoev. By deploying players who play together on a regular basis and allowing them to play to a style they are familiar with, the Russians have given themselves an advantage over most nations.
However, Advocaat will have to address the problem of wasteful finishing from his side, with Kerzhakov chiefly at fault.
The Czechs seemed too open and clueless in their movement off the ball. The back line was caught napping every time the Russians launched counter-attacks. It might have helped if Bilek's men had tried to defend deeper instead of wandering forward. That could at least have forced the Russians to stretch their midfield and forward lines, allowing for gaps that the Czech's younger and faster players might have been able to exploit. Indeed, the only time the actually did that - they scored.