Russia made a statement of intent in their opening match versus Czech Republic. It was the first time they scored four goals in the European Championship finals and they did it in some style.
Matchday 1 Score (Group A):
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic
— Good Creativity — Dick Advocaat’s men looked dangerous every time they ventured forward. Russia made fourteen key passes versus Czech Republic as they tore them apart on the counter-attack time after time. That’s the most in the group for the matchday. Andrey Arshavin was in menacing form in this game, making an outstanding seven key passes, two of which led to goals. He also completed three dribbles.*
Alan Dzagoev was also very much in the mood as he completed two dribbles and contributed three of Russia’s key passes. He also netted twice on the day — two ferocious efforts. He and Arshavin wreaked havoc in the final third. Czech Republic simply couldn’t deal with either of them. Arshavin displayed the kind of form that made Arsene Wenger purchase him from Zenit St. Petersburg a few seasons back. A loan move back to his former club has helped him regain some form, it seems. If he continues to impress in this manner, Wenger may well want him back at the Emirates next season.
Russia’s attacking play came from all areas of the pitch. Arshavin was well employed on the left, Konstantin Zyryanov, Roman Shirokov, and Alexander Kerzhakov provided a decent threat through the middle (Shirokov ended up on the score sheet after making a late run into the box, while Kerzhakov had many chances, but finished poorly), and Dzagoev saw enough of the ball to cause more than a few problems on the right, especially when Michal Kadlec bombed forward, leaving lots of space behind him. That Russia can be a genuine attacking threat from pretty much anywhere is pretty impressive.
Russia’s midfield in particular dominated the game and this no doubt played a huge part in their convincing victory. In fact, such was the level of control that Czech Republic manager Michal Bilek had to replace Jan Rezek at the break with a defensive midfielder, Tomas Hubschmann, in order to try and win back the midfield. This helped a bit, but Russia’s midfield, helped by Alexander Kerzhakov dropping deep as a “False 9,” simply couldn’t be tamed.
— Good Passing — Russia completed a decent 81% of their passes, maintaining 51% possession of the ball in the process. Igor Denisov, the holding midfielder in the 4-3-3 used by Russia, was very neat in possession, completing 88% of his passes. Most were short as he simply laid the ball off to the more creative, forward going central midfielders, particularly Shirokov. Zyryanov had an excellent game in the middle of the park as well, completing an impressive 92% of his passes.
— Vulnerable at Set-Pieces — Russia’s defense was largely untroubled in open play, but corners and free-kicks gave the defenders a few problems. The fact that they were poor in the air goes a long way in explaining the difficulties they experienced; they won just 36% of their aerial duels. The team performed well in general, but this is one area Dick Advocaat would be wise to keep an eye on. Greece are quite strong in the air and may see this as an area to exploit when they meet later on in the group.
Russia played very well. They are seen by some as dark horses in this tournament. With such a commanding performance in their first game, they did their chances of progressing in the competition no harm at all. They have the talent and the players are quite familiar with each other given club connections. The task is not at all an impossible one.
Up next is Poland. It will be a huge test as the Poles are excellent going forward. If Russia beats the home nation, that would certainly put them in the driver’s seat in the group and would give a slight nudge to tournament heavyweights like Spain and Germany, letting them know that they’re around and won’t be easily ignored.
Czech Republic: Positives
— Strong in the Air — Czech Republic won 64% of the game’s aerial duels. That strength in the air would prove handy at set-pieces. They’d be wise to take advantage of these as they lack a proper striker up front.
— Good Creativity — Jaroslav Plasil in particular played a huge part in what Czech Republic had to offer going forward. In fact, it was his wonderful pass that put Vaclav Pilar in to score Czech Republic’s consolation goal. His deliveries from set-pieces weren’t half bad either, even though he switched from left foot to right foot every now and again. In all, he contributed seven of Czech Republic’s thirteen key passes in this fixture.
Tomas Rosicky contributed two of his own, but he struggled to get into the game. Plasil pulled the strings. In fairness, there were doubts about Rosicky’s fitness leading up to the game. Though, he played the full ninety minutes. Czech Republic didn’t really have an end product, but they created a number of chances, particularly in the second half.
— Poor Passing — Czech Republic completed just 79% of their passes. Captain Rosicky, who was supposd to be the chief playmaker for his team, completed a mere 73% of his passes. In addition, the defensive midfield pair of Plasil and Petr Jiracek completed just 73% of their passes as well. In a 4-2-3-1, the defensive midfield is important as far as ball retention is concerned. The ball simply wasn’t kept well enough. They have the ideas, but they need to improve their execution if they are to rebound from their heavy defeat.
— Poor Positioning — Czech Republic’s players were caught on the counter attack because they left gaps behind when attacking. This is especially true of Michal Kadlec. He provided a decent option on the left wing in attack, but he left acres of space behind him and was slow in tracking back. Not only was Petr Cech often left exposed as a result, but poor positioning led to misplaced passes as well.
Alan Dzagoev exploited the space vacated by Kadlec. The first goal he scored is a great example of this, as is Shirokov’s goal. Both could’ve been easily avoided. Although the entire midfield and defense need to be more disciplined as far as positioning goes, Michal Kadlec should be especially careful in this regard.
Czech Republic played as badly in this game as Russia played well. Michal Bilek certainly has some issues to address before the country’s next game versus Greece. If they don’t tighten up at the back, position themselves well, and become neater in possession, what has started out to be a bad tournament for them would get worse.
*- Stats courtesy of whoscored