Man of the Match: Were he playing in Western Europe, Alan Dzagoev would have been a strange candidate as a potential breakout star, but since he plays his club soccer for CSKA Moscow, he’s relatively unknown. Today, he showed why anybody with even tangential knowledge of the Russian league considers the 21-year-old a star. Dzagoev was in the right place for the opener, scoring 15 minutes in. In the 79th minute, his blast from the edge of the area sealed three points for Russia.
Packaged for takeaway:
- It really did feel like 2008 all over again. Then, Russia entranced us with a semifinal run before being undone by Spain. Today, they showed the same attacking zeal in taking apart the Czechs.
- The Czechs certainly helped. Their defending was terrible. Three of the goals came through the left side of a defense that may as well have been abandoned by Michal Kadlec. Particularly when Andrei Arshavin switched with Dzagoev (putting the Zenit-senal star on the right), Russia was constantly pushing through that side.
- And Arshavin was great. Pulling the strings all day (when he’s playing like this, it really does seem like there’s a string from foot to ball), he lent credence to the believe that he’s not the problem, Arsene Wenger’s use of him is. A great day for anybody who missed the Arshavin of three years ago.
- The surge from Russia’s midfield was impressive, too. Konstantin Zyryanov’s place in the starting XI is much-debated, but today he was very good, particularly in the first half. Roman Shirokov’s work on the second goal – both getting the team into attack and running onto the final ball- spoke for itself.
- The only question, personnel-wise, for Russia is at striker. Aleksandr Kerzhakov was important to Russia’s counterattacking, but he was terrible on his few chances to provide an end product. Roman Pavlyuchenko came on and provided a goal and an assist. Do you change your team after winning 4-1? You might.
- Tactically, Russia looks very vulnerable on set pieces. Each of the Czech Republics corners and restarts was met with disorganization. The defense also looked bad on the goal, failing to pressure Jaroslav Plasil while Vaclav Pilar beat Aleksandr Anyukov.
- Given Russia’s apparent vulnerability in the air, you wonder why Czech coach Michal Bilak didn’t change things up at halftime. He brought on a midfielder to help stop Russia’s transition, but he never brought somebody to play up top with Milan Baros. Perhaps it was an indication of how much Russia had rocked the Czech Republic. Bilak had too many worries to make a proactive move.
- Clearly, it’s a huge result. Not only is it three points for Russia, it’s a big goal difference push for both sides. For the Czechs, it’s a push in the wrong direction. They may need to win their final two games.
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