Line-Ups and Formation:
There were no real shocks in either line-up. Kadlec went to his normal role at left-back after it was thought he may be used as a centre-back. Both Rosicky and Baros were passed fit enough to start. For Russia the only change from their usual line-up was Malafeev starting ahead of the injured Akinfeev.
The game itself wasn’t particularly surprising. Alan Dzagoev’s well taken early goal allowed Russia the incentive to sit deeper and force the Czechs to come at them. The lack of cutting edge in the Czech Republic side is all too clear to see and they struggled badly to create any chances of note in the first half. Pilar down the left was the only occasional spark of creativity but even he had a tendency to overdo any good work he had achieved. Denisov played the midfield holding role perfectly and occupied the role Rosicky would’ve hoped to excel in. Rosicky as a result had to roam deeper and wider to find space to operate and this effectively killed his ability to influence the score line. Roman Shirokov scored Russia’s second goal on the 24th minute with a deftly chipped finish over Cech after an Arshavin pass had squirmed past its intended target. For the rest of the first half it looked like a rout was on the cards as Russia were blowing through the Czechs like the wind. Luckily for the Czechs half-time arrived at 2-0.
Czech Republic manager Bílek reacted at half-time by replacing right-winger Jan Rezek with a defensive midfielder in the form of Shahktar’s Donestk’s Hubschman. Hubschman came straight in as the midfield anchor and Jiracek as moved out to the wide right. For a 15-20 minute spell in the first half this move unsettled Russia. Czech Republic got a hold of the game for the first time and Pilar got a goal back on the 52nd minute by breaking the offside trap and rounding Malafeev after an exquisite pass from Plasil. Hubschman’s presence as the holding midfielder went a long way to aiding the quality of Kadlec’s defending against Dzagoev and in this spell of the game the CSKA Moscow man practically vanished. The passing game of the Russians became sloppy and the tricks and flicks that were coming off nicely in the first half now rebounded to the Czechs. As the game wore on in the second half though and Czech Republic chased harder and harder for the equalizer, the more they exposed themselves at the back in doing so. Kerzakhov was finding all sorts of space in the second half and the long the half drove on, the more likely it looked Russia would score a third. Kerzhakov squandered three good chances and was eventually replaced by Advocaat, bringing on Palyuchenko in his place. It didn’t take long for the substitution to take effect and on the 79th minute it was Pavlyuchenko’s pass that found Dzagoev who then rifled home Russia’s third and sealed the win. Pavlyuchenko then finished the battering by scoring a delightful goal after some neat footwork on the left hand side of the box.
The game finished 4-1 and although Czech Republic played considerably better in the second half, on the overall scale of play such a victory did not flatter the Russians.
Flops of the Match:
Some would say Kerzakhov may be deserving of this tag but that would be unfair. He did miss a couple of gilt-edged chances but his movement stretched and confused the Czech defence. Instead this will go to two Czech players. The first is left-back, Michal Kadlec. He was at fault for Russia’s first two goals. On both moves he was positioned far too high and left his team-mates exposed. For Shirokov’s goal, Kadlec’s half-hearted attempt to track his man into the box will surely be something that infuriates his manager.
Milan Baros will also be awarded this title. Anyone who watches him with Galatasaray will see how far he has fallen and tonight he was dreadful. On the rare occasion of the Czechs breaking into the final third, Baros was totally out of synch with anything his team-mates were planning. Ignashevich also tackled him quite forcefully twice early in the game and after that Baros shied away entirely from the physical challenge on offer.
The first one picks himself, Alan Dzagoev. Even taking away the two goals he scored, his input was remarkable. Dzagoev was quick to track back in to the space Shirokov vacated when the midfielder surged forward but lost possession. Dzagoev was also involved in what can only be described a slapstick moment in the build-up to his first goal. As the two Czech defenders closed in on him just past the half-way line, Dzagoev drags the ball back and changes direction in one swift movement. Neither of the Czech defenders anticipated this and they collide head on with each other and fall to the ground just as Dzagoev gracefully moves away into space. An immense contribution and he will have earned a few admirers tonight.
Roman Shirokov is the other player I thought played a key role in Russia’s win tonight. Not only did he sore the goal that gave Advocaat’s mean a two goal lead, he was heavily involved in most of Russia’s good work. He pressed Plasil to no end and allowed him no real time to settle. Shirokov was also instrumental in the verticalization of possession for the swift Russian counter-attacks.
What to take from this game:
What is striking about this Russia side is the influence of Luciano Spalletti. There were seven Zenit St.Petersburg players starting tonight for Russia. The way Russia attacked, the interlinking of the midfielders, the deep late runs from midfield and the quick short exchanges of passing are all characteristics Spalletti employed at Zenit and at Roma. Shirokov’s freedom to join the attack mimics the way Perrotta was used by Lippi in World Cup 2006. A role Lippi had seen Perrotta thrive in alongside Totti at Roma under Spalletti the previous season to that tournament. Russia’s early goal had a monumental impact upon this game and as a result we only really saw one shade of Advocaat’s Russia tonight. If they were to concede the first goal and forced therefore to chase the game and open themselves up by advancing the full-backs further forward, the lack of pace in both Ignashevich and Berezutsky will be an area of worry and something I’m sure opposing managers are already thinking about.
Just as the Russians gained massively from the early goal, the Czechs were destroyed by it. Pilar showed moments of ability and his pace will trouble other right-backs in this tournament. Bilek has the decision now to make in whether to bring Jan Rezek back in to the side or to keep what worked largely in the second half with Hubschman as the holding midfielder and Jiracek out on the right. This defeat will of course be a cause for concern in the Czech camp but neither Poland nor Greece’s performances will have put fear into them yet.