Saying that Russia is a candidate for the title is premature after one game; however, the way in which this team moves the ball around is exhilarating. Russia's boys exude confidence, class and the sheer joy of playing soccer. The pride in wearing that shirt is back, they eat the grass, Russia is back!
Czech Republic 1 Russia 4
Pilar, 51 Dzagoev 15, Shirokov 24, Dzagoev 79, Pavlyuchenko 81
Czech Republic: Čech, Gebre Selassie, Kadlec, Hubník, Sivok, Rezek, Rosický, Plašil, Pilař, Jiráček, Baroš SUBS: Laštuvka, Drobný, Suchý, Limberský, Rajtoral, Petržela, Hübschman, Kolář, Darida, Necid, Pekhart, Lafata.
Russia: Malafeev, Anyukov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Berezutski, Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov, Dzagoev, Arshavin, Kerzhakov SUBS: Akinfeev, Shunin, Sharonov, Granat, Nababkin, Izmailov, Kombarov, Kokorin, Glushakov, Semshov, Pavlyuchenko, Pogrebnyak.
End-to-end football in the opening minutes with both teams testing each other out, but then Russia found some excellent touches, playing fluid football, culminating in Alan Dzagoev's fifth goal for Russia (20 games) on 15'. Dzagoev could have scored his second 4 minutes later but missed.
Malafeev saved a shot from Rezek on 23' as the Czechs tried to come back into the game but Russia scored the second after 24', Roman Shirokov skilfully tapping Arshavin's excellent pass past Petr Čech, scoring his seventh goal for Russia. 33' Kerzhakov could have made it 3-0 but blasted over.
This Russian team looks like the side that won third place at the last EURO Championship in 2008. At the back, Sergei Ignashevich and Alexei Berezutski worked hard in a back four that had conceded two goals in eleven games; going forward, the Arshavin-Dzagoev-Shirokov-Kerzhakov combination is lethal.
Second half: The Czechs, to give them their due, tried hard to come into the game, however Kerzhakov missed several opportunities, and clear opportunities, before being substituted by Roman Pavlyuchenko. The Czech goal came sandwiched between two such occasions. On 49', Kerzhakov fired wide, on 51', Pilar danced round Malafeev as the Russian defence lost concentration. 2-1.
64' Kerzhakov missed amazingly from 7 metres and tem minutes later, Malafeev stopped a goalbound shot from Rosicky. After this, it was amazing skill, one-touch football from the New Brazilians of the East. Wave after wave from any combination of Arshavin-Dzagoev-Shirokov-Kerzhakov-Denisov-Zyryanov...
It was a question of when and not if and it came on 79' with Dzagoev's second and 81', a splendid turn and shot from Pavlyuchenko.
Group A (FIFA ranking pre-tournament)
W D L GF GA P
Russia (11) 1 0 0 4 1 3
Greece (14) 0 1 0 1 1 1
Poland (65) 0 1 0 1 1 1
Czech Republic (26) 0 0 1 1 4 0
Fixtures (Times GMT)
Tuesday June 12 Greece v. Czech Republic 17.00
Poland v. Russia 19.45
Saturday June 16 Czech Republic v. Poland 19.45
Greece v. Russia 19.45