Statistically an evenly matched game, apart from one stat in particular…
Club vs country: The Russian starting 11 featured no fewer than seven players from the title-winning Zenit side, which only lost 4 games in this elongated Russian Premier League season. It is therefore no surprise that Russia’s style and interplay is very reminiscent of Zenit; let’s face it, even if Advocaat wanted them to play in a different way, these players would naturally settle into the style they are used to for their club. The Czech side, in contrast, featured players from 11 different club sides in six different leagues.
Czechs start strongly: Despite the cosmopolitan nature of their lineup, the Czechs started the stronger side. Jirasec and Rosicky were the leading lights of the opening phase, picking up the ball and driving at the Russian defence, while Pilar on the left was also a threat, getting the better of Anyukov at right back on several occasions, and being ably supported by Kadlec pushing forward on the overlap. In the first 10-15 minutes the game was all Czech, with Russia barely able to string a couple of passes together.
Czechs have more possession, further forward, in the opening phase
Arshavin sparks into life: After weathering this early period of Czech dominance without really being tested at the back, it was Arshavin who dragged
Zenit Russia back into the game. Operating on the left, he won a corner which allowed Russia to move up the field and cause their first defensive problem for the Czechs, then released Zhirkov on the overlap with a bit of trickery for their first real shot at goal, which was skewed wide by Kerzhakov. All of a sudden the game looked much more even as Russia had finally established a foothold.
Arshavin ineffectual in the first 10, but involved much more in the next 15
Czechs absent in midfield: At this point the most obvious tactical deficiency of the Czechs was beginning to be exploited by Russia. With Rosicky and Jiracek notably pushing forward to support Czech attacks, it was left to Plasil to be the more defensively minded of the three. This is a job that he doesn’t have the necessary restraint and commitment for, preferring to venture forward himself when his team are in possession. With Russia the better team and likely to try to play through the Czechs, it seemed odd that Bilek started with this lineup instead of Hubschman who is a more natural protective midfielder. It led to Plasil being caught regularly up the pitch, often giving the ball away himself, and allowed Russia to break at the Czech back line with numbers.
This exposure of the defence was in part responsible for the first goal, as Plasil’s absence drew Kadlec in to midfield to try to break down a Russian attack, where he clashed with the recovering Plasil and took them both out of the game. Russia played the ball to Zyryanov in the vacant left back slot, who crossed for Kerzhakov to head against the post and Dzagoev to follow in as the Czech defenders stood and watched.
Plasil was also at fault for the second goal, allowing Russia to break 4-on-3. Arshavin overhit his pass to Kerzhakov, and as the #11 turned to remonstrate with his captain, Dzagoev stole in to lift the wayward ball over a hesitant Cech.
Despite Plasil’s problems, Jiracek and Pilar in particular were causing problems whenever they received the ball, willing to drive forward and cause Russia problems.
Hubschman changes the Czech fortunes: At half time Bilek removed the ineffectual Resek in favour of Hubschman, adding some form of protection in front of the back four. This pushed Plasil up alongside Rosicky, and moved Jirasek out to the right. Now the Czech Republic had a secure base to allow the forward line to commit to finding a response to being 2-0 down, without as much risk of being caught on the counter as in the first half. This is how they should have started the game, if it wasn’t already clear.
Plasil made the most of his new-found freedom by supplying the assist for the Czech goal. Picking up the ball in acres of space, he had all the time in the world to play in Pilar on an out-to-in run, and Pilar had no trouble rounding Malafeev to make it 2-1. Pilar was having a spectacular game on the left, and deserved this well-taken goal. Similarly, Anyukov was not enjoying Pilar’s challenge, and it was fittingly the right back whose poor attempt at playing offside allowed Pilar in behind.
Kerzhakov has his boots on the wrong feet: The game was now more open as the Czechs began to search for the equaliser, and Rosicky was the only man to get a shot on target in this period of the game. That statistic is mainly due to some woeful finishing from Kerzhakov, who found himself in good positions as Russia began to exploit the Czechs’ necessary hunt for a second goal.
Kerzhakov sees cows arse, holds banjo, can’t combine the two
Pavlyuchenko finishes it off: Having agitated for a move from the Spurs bench in January to get playing time before the Euros, Pavlyuchenko showed that he was not bluffing by producing a goal and an assist from his 16 second half minutes. The assist was hardly spectacular, taking advantage of a lucky break of the ball to feed in Dzagoev who adopted the hit-and-hope approach to finishing and narrowly missed Cech to make it 3-1. Then Pavlyuchenko himself received the ball of the edge of the box, realised that Hubnik was intent on committing himself to winning the ball, so drew him in, made a yard of space and fired the ball past Cech into the top corner. Cech got fingertips to it, but it was a powerful shot and a difficult save to make.
A surprisingly even game. Russia were the better side and created the best chances, while exploiting Czech tactical naivety in the first half. However, Pilar was the standout player, constantly causing problems, able to take players on and rarely losing the ball. Jiracek too deserves a mention. The two Arsenal mini-maestros performed well, while Dzagoev took the headlines with two goals but was not as spectacular as the post-match hype suggests. Both of these sides should progress from group A on this showing.