Three thoughts from Russia's 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic
This team has shown flickers of great potential, most notably in last Friday's 3-0 win over Italy and in its 3-2 win over Ireland in Dublin in October 2010. But it's a different matter to put on such a dominant display when it matters. Despite some pleasing passing from the Czechs, Russia seemed firmly in control of the match from the opening minutes.
First there was Dzagoev, striding forward and laying the ball for Konstantin Zyryanov, who crossed. Kerzhakov hit the post, but the ball fell for Dzagoev to smash home: 1-0. Then there was Roman Shrirokov, who stabbed the second over Petr Cech after Arshavin's through-ball eluded Kerzhakov: 2-0. The Czechs looked comfortable when in possession of the ball, but they were woefully open in the back. Kerzhakov clipped the top of the bar on a square pass from Arshavin and the scoring opportunities continued from there, culminating in Dzagoev's second score and a brilliant goal by Pavlyuchenko. Russia coach Dick Advocaat must be very pleased, though he'll want to eliminate his team's vulnerability in the back.
But the Czech Republic should not be despondent. It won't meet many sides who play with Russia's attacking verve, and in a way, it was unlucky to catch Russia playing so well. Hubschmann could return to add solidarity -- he came on for Jan Rezek at halftime -- or Bilek may decide that he doesn't need the attacking approach against Greece and Poland. Either way, the draw from Poland and Greece should give the Czechs encouragement: If it can get four points from its next two games, it still remains likely to go through.
Of course, to do that though will take a better performance from Petr Cech, who was slow off his line for Shirokov's goal and had his hands bent back by the third and fourth. Czech will also require a more committed defensive showing.The way that Tomas Sivok turned away from Pavlyuchenko's drive for the fourth Russian goal was typical of a sloppy all-round display from the back four.
In part, his resurgence has to do with his return to Zenit St Petersburg on loan, a credit to the rekindling of his great partnership with Kerzhakov. That duo played together at Zenit until Kerzhakov moved to Sevilla in 2006 -- he has since returned -- and it may have been better for both if they had never left. They simply seem to get the best out of each other, understanding each other's game as only those who have played together for protracted periods can. Together they tore Macedonia apart in a qualifier for Euro 2008, and there is something wonderful about seeing the affair rekindled. Arshavin's disguised ball to Kerzhakov midway through the second half, flipped with the outside of his right foot, was magical -- one of those moments of vision and skill that seem to exist outside the hurly-burly nature of the game. For his sake, let's hope Arshavin stays at Zenit. That's clearly where he is happiest, and it would seem horribly cruel to break up his partnership with Kerzhakov.