Friday, 8 June 2012

Rampant Russians Run Riot

In Poland, this was a special day of excitement, passion and pride decades-upon-decades in the making. After a four-year pregnancy oftentimes turbulent and controversial, the nation gave birth to the European Championships in a blaze of tempestuous excitement. However, neither the colourful and strangely-successful Opening Ceremony in Warsaw, nor the gallant 1-1 home draw with past-winners Greece, was the most alluring, eminently-poignant phenomenon to trickle out of the Championships on its first day. Rather, the days headlines were composed and compiled some two-hundred miles east in the city of Wroclaw.

It was there, in the steep and atmospheric enclave of Stadion Municipal, that Dick Advocaat's hungry Russian machine set about a wiry Czech Republic with smart and sophisticated vengeance. The Russian's posted a performance of scintillating quality and diversity, of beguiling technical mastery and exquisite skill. The Russian's displayed an innate confidence and luxuriated, for long periods, on the ball. The Russian's demonstrated why they so vociferously claim to have a legitimate chance of claiming this European crown.

On this night, the Andrei Arshavin capable of pure magic turned up. A mid-season switch from Arsenal to Zenit St Petersburg has rekindled some of Arshavin's boundless talent and, in Wroclaw, his illumination, once again, of a European Championship commenced. It was, of course, the 2008 incarnation of the tournament which so monumentally kick-started his career, as his truly magical performances thrilled and excited a continent. Four years on, Arshavin delved back in time to produce one of his very best performances, punctuated with persistently-phenomenal vision, breathtaking passing and some purely beautiful touches. When Andrei wants to play, he really can. Thus were the Russians propelled to a marauding victory.

It took ten minutes or so for the initial wind to fall from the Czech sail, as Russia grappled control of the game. Smooth in the transitions, smart in the use of ball, wave after wave of Russian pressure enveloped the goal of Petr Cech. Therefore, it was a moment of poignant beauty and deserved jubilation when Alan Dzagoev, the Bright Young Thing of Russian Football, finished off a move profound in its accumulative build-up and technical accomplishment. With barely fifteen minutes on the clock, the Czech Republic were in a rut.

Monopolising possession and dictating with a repetitive rhythm the direction of play, Russia stormed forward. When Roman Shirokov capped with a deft chip into the net another fine Arshavin-inspired Russian move, Advocaat's men looked to be in an invulnerable position. At two-nil, they were coasting towards a pleasing opening success.

However, shortly after the break came yet another of those frequent realisations that "it only takes a second to score a goal." The Czech midfield illustrated an intricate understanding so lacking from vast swathes of their regular play, with a slide-rule pass splitting at source the defensive axis of Berezutsky and Ignashevich. Vaclav Pilar tiptoed through the penalty area to round Malafeev and plant a seed of optimism in the mind of Czech's everywhere with a fine finish.

Such elements of fine craft were rare from a Czech forward line often lacking in the exuberance and energy which so defined their opponents. As the game became stretched, the highly-influential Igor Denisov commanded, with greater intensity, more and more of the ball. Such incidents often spell disaster for the opposition. So it proven to be. At a canter, Russia powered home two more sublime goals, authored by the feet of, firstly, Roman Pavlyuchenko, and, then, Dzagoev. They were the exclamation points to a fine and mightily impressive Russian display; perhaps a harbinger of things to come.  

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