The open encounter between Russia and Czech Republic saw a few players stand out for the right reasons. Andrey Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev, for example, put in top notch performances for their country. On the other hand, there were others who just couldn’t get themselves together on the day.
Weak Links (Matchday 1, Group A)
Russia — Alexander Kerzhakov
Alexander Kerzhakov found himself in a rather familiar role up top for Russia — a “False 9” who was encouraged to drop deep to link-up with the midfield. He plays that role for his club Zenit St. Petersburg and to good effect. In fairness, he didn’t play badly overall versus Czech Republic, but if anyone was asked what they remembered about Kerzhakov’s performance, they wouldn’t mention the fact that he didn’t have a bad game, rather, they would mention his atrocious finishing.
The Russian frontman blew chance after chance after chance. He could so easily have had a hat-trick on any other day. On matchday one, though, he had seven shots in total, none of which were on target.* The closest he came was a header which struck the foot of the far post in the fifteenth minute. Interestingly, that header caused chaos in the Czech Republic penalty area and it led to Alan Dzagoev rifling the ball home for his first goal of the match.
Kerzhakov’s finishing continued to worsen after that play, though, so much so that Dick Advocaat opted to put him out of his misery, subbing him for Roman Pavlyuchenko, who in turn showed his colleague how it’s done by lashing home a magnificent, powerful effort after terrific individual play.
Advocaat now has a tough decision to make for the game versus Poland. Does he keep faith in Kerzhakov or does he go with Pavlyuchenko who had a terrific, Salpingidis-like cameo performance? Either way, the decision could prove telling. If he sulks, he may be of no use to his team. But if he takes it to heart, however, he can go on to impact his team the same way Salpingidis impacted his.
Should Kerzhakov be dropped, what kind of mental state would he be in should he be called upon to make an impact from the bench? A striker’s confidence is helped hugely by goals. Hopefully, he hasn’t been affected too much by his performance on matchday one.
Czech Republic — Milan Baros
Czech Republic, collectively, were very unimpressive on the day. It wasn’t an easy task trying to pinpoint one particular player who failed to inspire but, in the end, Milan Baros was singled out.
Somehow, despite getting thirty-one touches of the ball, Baros didn’t manage a single shot. As a striker, the fact that he didn’t test the ‘keeper at all is unacceptable at this level, or any level for that matter.
He played as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 system. Thus, it’s even more crucial that he provide more of an attacking threat as well as good hold up play. Czech Republic still managed to get on the score sheet via a Vaclav Pilar effort, but he shouldn’t be relied upon to carry his nation through the tournament.
A match against Greece awaits. Hopefully Baros would do better in that match. If he proves ineffective again, someone like Tomas Necid would surely fancy his chances of starting for his country.
*- Stats courtesy of whoscored