Russia vs Czech Republic
June 8 2012
This was a match that featured major characters in European football, with Arshavin and Rosicky notably both having once donned an Arsenal shirt and Cech proving to be Chelsea's saving grace in the Champions League. A quick foul little more than 2 seconds from kick-off added some drama to the match and the Czech Republic wasted little time in seizing the initiative, applying offensive pressure with 2 corners in quick succession. A competent delivery from a set piece saw Hubnik head just wide of the Russian goal and Jiracek produced a spark of brilliance to leave his markers trailing only to fail to produce a good final ball. The Czechs were obviously on the ascendency, with some nifty interplay and prolonged periods of possession pinning the Russians far back into their half. A galloping run from Kadlec followed by a cross was met with a powerful volley and Rosicky launched a shot which was always rising far above the target.
Russia's answer to the Czech salvo came in the form of Arshavin, who immediately posed as a thorn in the side of the defence and played an integral part in Russia's goal, taking full advantage of Kadlec's dismal position to produce a cross resulting in a headed deflection which in turn set up Dzagoev to drive the ball home past Petr Cech. The tide consequently swung in favour of the Russians, who then again engaged in a passing move that Dzagoev did no justice to by screwing well wide of the mark. The Czech Republic then pressed further up into Russian territory, with a corner snuffed out by the Russian goalkeeper.
On the other hand, however, Russia's attacking flair once again came to the forefront as Arshavin's threaded pass tore the Czech defence wide open for Shirokov to add to Russia's advantage perhaps yet again punishment for Kadlec's sluggish man-marking. Arshavin then had a strong shout for a penalty when he was bundled over by a defender and then left his marker for dead to produce a dangerous pass that none of his teammates were in range to reach.
The match then turned into a see-saw affair that swung more in Russia's favour than it did the Czechs, though Jiracek's bursting runs did much to help the Czech cause. Milan Baros nearly got to a header but Russia then again terrorised the back four with a rapidly advancing triumvirate, only for Kerzhakov to send the ball rocketing into the stands. Arshavin looked absolutely imperious tonight for his country, his jinking runs imbued with slick close control combining with his eye for a pass to catalyse fluid attacking combinations.
A tame Czech riposte was answered by long periods of Russian monopoly of the ball, with Tomas Rosicky in particular having his influence exponentially reduced by watertight marking from the Russian defence. Cech was placed under unnecessary pressure by his defenders with a risky backpass and Jiracek, at times leading the attack on his own, shot from long range with disappointing results.
The difference between the teams thus far would have been Russia being able to translate their superior spells of possession into a final product in the form of two goals and link up with one another well in attack, while the Czech Republic quite simply failing to do so being faced with a well-drilled Russian defence.
After the break, Arshavin sent yet another quality ball across the face of the goal which was too out of the range of the forward men. Russia showed no fear of working the ball in tight spaces and this served as the foundation of some fabulous undulating football. However, Pilar's goal, which was wrought with cool composure, was a bolt in the blue of the Russian sunshine as he rounded the keeper to slot the ball home. It sparked an immediate Russian response as Selassie registered a beauty of a volley and Kerzhakov sending at least 4 chances wide of the mark with Arshavin once again at the heart of Russia's attacking. Pavlyuchenko then came on in a sensational performance to supply Dzagoev and in turn turned scorer with an incredible piece of skill to turn the defender inside out and cannon the ball into the top of the net. The game was now officially over as a contest.
A brief retaliation from the Czechs ensued but it was too little, too late as Russia, playing some top-class stylish football with star man Dzagoev serving as an effective outlet for the mercurial creativity of Arshavin with a clinical double, all but confirmed their status as potential contenders and dark horses of Euro 2012.