Russia were simply extraordinary in this one, aided by the great chemistry between their players. Of their squad, only one player, Pavel Pogrebnyak, plays outside of their underrated domestic league, and most play at either Zenit St. Petersburg—including all three midfielders, thereby explaining the Zenit-like Russian counter-attacks— or CSKA Moscow, including the center-back pairing. Watch for Ukraine to use similar tactics in their games, trying to get as many Dynamo Kyiv players as possible into the starting XI. Meanwhile, Russia have had a lot of injuries defensively but, as of yet, haven’t been forced to change their starting lineup, except in the case of the goalkeepers, with Malafeev, who had a very good night, replacing Akinfeev.
The starting line-ups were had only one surprise—- Kadlec moved from center-back to left-back for the Czechs, where he was terrible, moving Hubnik into the starting lineup and leaving Rajtoral out.
It was 4-2-3-1 vs. 4-3-3, which meant that unless Arshavin, infamous for not tracking back, helped the midfield, the Czechs would have a 5-4 edge in the middle, a huge tactical advantage. And indeed Arshavin didn’t— according to FourFourTwo Stats Zone, Dzagoev, Arshavin’s counterpart on the right wing, made seven defensive plays— four interceptions, and three successful tackles, good statistics for a defender, let alone a winger—while Arshavin made two— a failed clearance, and, seconds later, a foul committed—-but the Czech midfielders played poorly, and the teams were fairly even in midfield. Still, most Czech attacks involved far more players than the Russian ones, which often involved only three players, with Arshavin, Kerzhakov, and Dzagoev showing off their incredible movement and chemistry.
Despite the scoreline, the Czechs showed some encouraging offense against an exceptional Russian back-line, and shots, territory, possession, and pass completion were fairly even.
The Czech Republic dominated the first ten minutes, but Russia settled down, and even managed to score first.
There were seventy-five minutes left in the game, but the Czechs started pushing forward way too much, and took their pressing even further, making it easy for Russia’s clinical counterattacking. It was no surprise when Russia made it two; in fact, Dzagoev should have scored in the 18th minute, just three minutes after Russia got off the board.
Down 2-0, the Czechs had no choice but to attack, and the rest of the game followed a similar pattern to the first thirty minutes. The Czech defense was terrible, Arshavin and Dzagoev masterful, and, was it not for Kerzhakov’s bad shooting, it would have been even worse. Kerzhakov took seven shots, most from good positons, and failed to put one on target. When Pavlyuchenko came on for him, the understanding between the front three stayed the same, but the finishing became infinitely better, and Pavlyuchenko quickly provided an assist and a remarkable goal. On the other hand, Petr Cech should have come out much quicker on Russia’s second goal, and could have saved both the third and fourth.
Tomas Rosicky is supposed to be the playmaker for the Czech Republic, but couldn’t offer much in that department, as the Russians focused their defensive attention on him and Baros. The Czechs kept finding him, and it played right into the hands of the opponent. His pass completion was poor, he would only look to pass it to the nonexistant Baros, and the three shots he took were poor decisions. This is one of Rosicky’s biggest weaknesses; for Arsenal, he has scored on less than three percent of his shots.
The defensive midfielder charged with guarding Rosicky, Igor Denisov, was superb, adding solidity to the defense, and starting many of Russia’s counter-attacks. He completed 45 passes to the forward trio of Arshavin, Kerzhakov, and Dzagoev. Rosicky ended up dropping farther and farther back, and Baros was isolated up top.
It was the perfect chance for the wingers to show their blazing speed, but, hampered partly by Rosicky’s refusal to pass it to them, they failed to show up, leaving it to defensive midfielder Jaroslav Plasil to take control of the Czech offense, creating seven chances. He was the perfect example of the over-attacking approach, getting caught out of position on the first three Russian goals.
Plasil was also the player who gave the ball away on the key first goal, with a terrible passing decision. After that, he constantly attacked, leaving a hole between the defense and midfield that Jiracek wasn’t good enough to fill. When Hubschman came on at half-time, he played almost as a third center-back but it still wasn’t enough.
On a night when the Czech players kept feeding Rosicky and Baros, it was fitting that the assist came from Plasil and the lone goal from Pilar, despite generally poor performances from both.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Easy pick here. Great defensive work and two goald.
Silver Medal: Igor Denisov
The Czechs were unlucky to run into Russia when Dzagoev, Denisov, and Arshavin were all on otherworldly form.
Bronze Medal: Andriy Arshavin
Seven chances created, two assists, and it should have been at least three.
The Czechs play a virtual home game against Greece, before a game against Poland, both in Wroclaw. Both opponents will be desperate. A win and a draw will be enough to advance; if one of their opponents beats Russia, the Czechs need to beat that team; a loss eliminates the Czech Republic.
Russia will be favorites to beat Poland and Greece. Both games are in Warsaw. One win will be enough to advance.
OTHER EURO NOTES
-Against tradition, the first game was extremely entertaining. Because of their unique style, the Greeks might be better with ten men. Meanwhile, Smuda was criticized in Poland for not having an 11 v. 10 game plan, and for only making one substitution— putting the back-up goalie on after the red card.
-The feared violence and racism has already started. Holland’s practice in Krakow was met with racist chanting, while Russian fans attacked a steward, directed racist chants at Gebre Selassie, and scuffled with Ukrainian fans in Lviv.