Wroclaw: Russia surging forward with speed and finesse and Andrei Arshavin actually affecting a game positively with his laidback but at times exquisite approach — it could have been 2008 all over again.
Their 4-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic in their Euro 2012 Group A opener on Friday was soccer at its best but the question on Russian and rival fans’ lips is: “Can they keep it going?”
Four years ago Russia and Arshavin, an almost unknown conjurer of football magic who had evaded all of Europe’s top scouts for years, dazzled the championship before they lost their way in a semi-final defeat by winners Spain.
This time they mean business again and may even have a more rounded team. Their defence looked solid for the most part, but whether the notoriously flaky soccer nation can continue to produce such flowing football remains to be seen.
The incisiveness with which Russia carved out openings with quick one-touch passing on the counter attack was a delight to behold, whether Arshavin meant the defence-splitting pass to Roman Shirokov for the beautifully dinked second goal or not.
It may have been meant for Alexander Kerzhakov, but it was great football and exactly what a big tournament needed on its opening night. Some glamour, some swagger.
The heavy rain in the hour before kickoff in Wroclaw, after the day had started sunny, slickened up the surface just perfectly for the Russians to move the ball along the ground at pace once the drizzle had stopped.
The other key factor was Czech coach Michal Bilek choosing the marauding Michal Kadlec at left back.
He left gaping holes in defence without being productive up the field and Alan Dzagoyev, the scorer of the first on 15 minutes, had all the time in the world to blast wastefully wide in a chance which should have put Dick Advocaat’s men 3-0 up by halftime.