Russia produces attacking show to beat Czechs 4-1
After rating his team as an outsider before the European Championship started, Russia coach Dick Advocaat may have to revise his opinion.
The Russians put on a clinical attacking display Friday, scoring two goals in each half in a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in Group A.
Post-victory, Advocaat's only regret was that the score wasn't higher.
''If you score four goals against the Czech Republic in an international, you have played a good game,'' the veteran Dutch coach said. ''We should have scored more.''
Alan Dzagoev, a 21-year-old CSKA Moscow winger who had scored only four goals in 20 internationals before Friday, was the star of Russia's attacking show, scoring a goal in each half to put Russia at the top of the group. Poland and Greece drew in the Euro 2012 opener earlier Friday.
Picking Dzagoev to play on the right alongside the Zenit St. Petersburg pairing of Andrei Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov was a gamble for Advocaat that paid off as Dzagoev easily combined with his fellow forwards and showed more composure in front of goal than Kerzhakov.
''This was the fist step to the final,'' Dzagoev said.
Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov gave Russia a 2-0 halftime lead before Vaclav Pilar pulled one back in the 52nd minute for the Czechs. Dzagoev replied with his second, in the 80th, and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko added a fourth two minutes later to complete the victory.
''After we scored, we gave away the ball and the punished us in the same way they did in the first half,'' Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said after the team slumped to its biggest defeat since losing to Brazil by the same score at the 1970 World Cup.
''We are very disappointed. It's terrible to concede four goals, but we still have a team good enough to win the next two matches.''
Russia is built around a nucleus of players who made a surprise run to the semifinals four years ago. His starting lineup also featured seven Zenit players and the experience they have playing together showed from the start.
''Most of this team has played a lot together and been successful together,'' Advocaat said.
If Euro 2012's opening 1-1 draw between Poland and Greece had more drama than quality, the second group match was a feast of fluent, attacking football.
Arshavin, playing on the left wing but drifting all over the field, masterfully directed the Russian attacks with pinpoint passes all night. It was something of a redemption for Arshavin, who struggled for Arsenal this season before a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg.
After weathering a tough opening 10 minutes, Russia settled into its fluid passing game and tore apart the Czech defense.
Dzagoev was on hand to knock in a loose ball in the 15th minute. Konstantin Zyryanov floated a cross to the far post and Aleksandr Kerzhakov's ensuing header hit the woodwork before bouncing to Dzagoev.
Dzagoev should have scored again minutes later but blasted his shot wide after Kerzhakov found him in space on the right.
Shirokov made no such mistake in the 24th when he ran onto a diagonal pass from the left by Arshavin and cleverly lifted the ball over Petr Cech's despairing dive for his seventh intentional goal.
After Russian chances early in the second half went off target, the Czechs replied as Pilar beat the offside trap to run onto a pass from Petr Jiracek, get around Vyacheslav Malafeev and slide the ball home in the 52nd minute.
''I collected a through pass from Petr Jiracek and scored, but I'm not happy about the goal because we were comprehensively beaten,'' Pilar said.
And after Kerzhakov missed two more good chances, Czech Republic right back Theodor Gebre Selassie nearly scored a spectacular equalizer in the 72nd with a powerful right foot volley into the side netting. Tomas Rosicky then came close with a low shot that Malafeev saved.
But Russia then stepped up a gear as Dzagoev slammed home another shot after a pass from Pavlyuchenko. And then Pavlyuchenko, on for Kerzhakov, held off three Czech defenders and drove a rising shot past Cech.
Russia: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Alexander Anyukov, Alexei Berezutski, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Andrei Arshavin, Alexander Kerzhakov (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 73), Alan Dzagoev (Aleksandr Kokorin, 84).
Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Roman Hubnik, Michal Kadlec, Jan Rezek (Tomas Huebschman, 46), Jaroslav Plasil, Tomas Rosicky, Petr Jiracek (Milan Petrzela, 75), Vaclav Pilar, Milan Baros (David Lafata, 85).