Man of the match: Leading up the tournament, France-born defender Damien Perquis had to justify his place playing for a country that has had a number of stars naturalized by other countries. On Tuesday, Perquis’ justification came on the field, where he was dominant breaking up play attacking Poland’s left channel and, in the second half, the man creating the turnovers that developed into counterattacks.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Poland coach Franciszek Smuda didn’t give Perquis and partner Marcin Wasilewski as much help as he could have. When the team sheet surprisingly had Dariusz Dudka in the team, it looked like he would pair with Eugen Polanski at the base of midfield, providing two players to break up counters and help as Andrei Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev cut inside. Instead Poland played 4-1-4-1 on defense (with Dudka deep), employing a defensive line high enough to dare Russia’s midfielders to hit a perfectly weighted ball. That never happened.
- Smuda made another astute change after half, swapping wide midfielders Ludomir Obraniak and Jakub “Kuba” Błaszczykowski. Błaszczykowski’s impact still came through the right, though. On a Poland counter, he and Obraniak were able to attack Yuri Zhirkov, turn him around on a Kuba run, and create a chance at the edge of the area. Błaszczykowski blasted the equalizer into the left of goal after a beautiful first touch that took a supporting Sergei Ignashevich out of the play.
- It was part of a mixed might for Zhirkov. He was dangerous going forward, provided the width Russia needed as they moved Arshavin in from the left, and drew the foul that led to Russia’s goal. Defensively, however, he is still a liability, so much so that he can be targeted by the opposition.
- It isn’t Russia’s only problem at the back. They remain very vulnerable in the air, with Poland defender Sebastian Boesnich nearly heading Poland in front in the 8th minute. On the night Boesnich would put two more dangerous headers toward goal, with Wasilkewski adding his own pair. Surely I’m wrong, but I can’t remember Russia beating Poland in the air on a corner or restart.
- Thanks to goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia never had to pay for their poor set piece defending. He made three good saves and had a brave 50th minute punch while giving the day’s best goalkeeping performance.
- At the other end, Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal of the tournament, redirecting an insanely good Andrei Arshavin cross in for an 38th minute opener. It was the best part of an up-and-down night for each man. Dzagoev spent too much time talking to officials in the second half (and was eventually yellow carded) while Arshavin was inconsistent in his decision-making and, at the end of the match, was seen directing the ball away from his flank as he was too tired to run the attack.
- When Arshavin did that, Russia had little idea what to do. In the attacking phase, they seem to have one tactic: Get the ball to Andrei. At the end of the match, its redundancy was tiresome. Russia would build down the right, play to Arshavin coming across the top of the area, and he’d either play it back out or be too fatigued to keep the ball. In the last third of the match, they never really challenged for a winner because they were wholly dependent on a spent Arshavin.
- Poland got a scare at the end of the match when Polanski, one of their two or three best players on the day, went knee-to-knee with Zhirkov. He went off for a few minutes, tired to come back on, but then had to be brought off. It was the type of collision that often ends with a major injury. Hopefully Polanski is fine.
- Going forward, Russia needs only a draw against Greece to advance. They’ll win the group with a victory on Saturday. Poland plays the Czech Republic needing a win to go through.
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