2 games, 7 goals, 2 red cards, comedy defending only overshadowed by comedy goalkeeping and one decidedly shaky referee. Who saw that coming? We expect opening games of major tournaments to be cagey affairs as teams look to build a foothold in the competition but that thinking was blown out of the water last night. Poland and Greece got us under way with an utterly shambolic match that we dare not take our eyes off lest we miss the next crazy moment. It veered wildly from idiotic to irrepressible to sublime. From Greek goalkeeper Chalkias going walkabout to allow Manchester United bound, according to his national manager, Robert Lewandowski to send the Polish crowd into raptures to referee Carlos Velasco Carballo's ridiculous decision to send off Sokratis Papastathopoulos; from Wojciech Szczesny's impression of what he thinks an Arsenal goalkeeper should look like, first flapping at a cross like he was trying to flag down a taxi to take him back to London then sprinting off his line and lunging carelessly at the excellent second half sub Dimitris Salpingidis and getting a deserved red card to the immediate introduction of reserve keeper Przemyslaw Tyton who saved the subsequent penalty with his first touch of the game. A penalty that was so telegraphed by Giorgios Karagounis he couldn't have made it easier for the sub keeper if he had whispered his preferred position as Tyton jogged past and then pointed to the keepers left just to remind him! Poland and Greece was just the prelude to to the incredible performance by the Russians. Tearing the Czech Republic apart at every opportunity they looked every inch as entertaining as they were 4 years ago. Who knows how many Russia could have scored if Alexander Kerzhakov had taken any, some or even just one of the seven chances that came his way. That wasn't the talking point of the game though, that honour goes to someone who looked a lot like Andrei Arshavin. That last time anyone from these shores saw Arshavin he was cutting a thoroughly uninterested figure, someone who if you asked him to track back he would look at you as if you had just asked him to lend you his wife for the weekend. Last night though he ran the game with speed, skill and vision. Every time he got the ball he had found himself another pocket of space from which to launch attack after attack. He ended that game with 2 assists but it could have been so much more if another rejuvenated player in Roman Pavlyuchenko had started instead of the wasteful Kerzhakov. That's right Spurs fans Roman Pavlyuchenko got 20 minutes, scored one and made another looking every inch the player he was before he signed on at the Lane. I'm not saying a lot about the Czech's defence and that's for the simple reason that for long periods of time it didn't seem like they had one. Not a fully functioning one anyway. Champion of Europe with Chelsea, Petr Cech was left exposed in way he hadn't been used to since Villas-Boas left the Bridge. As one Arsenal player shone another hid. Tomas Rosicky was severely lacking last night and when the Czech Republic need their talismanic captain to step up he was nowhere to be seen. I'm also told ex Liverpool forward Milan Baros was playing last night but as of yet I'm yet to confirm this. All this offers damning condemnation of Craig Levein's decision to play with no attackers against the Czech's in qualifying. By no means are Scotland in the same class as Russia but this is a Czech side that has seen better times. The days of Poborsky, Smicer, Berger, Nedved and Koller are over and from the looks of things they are not coming back any time soon. Back to the Russian performance and in particular Alan Dzagoev who became the second youngest player to score a brace at the Euro's. He showed control and comfort when in possession and both his goals were clinically taken. Playing alongside this Arshavin will no doubt do him the world of good because he is no doubt a star of the future and central to Russia's long and short term plans. If the excitement on show last night was a sign of things to come then this could be a hell of a tournament! Live Tonight: The Group Of Death gets started tonight as Holland take on Denmark at 5pm (GMT) then, in the game of the weekend, Germany play Portugal at 7:45pm (GMT). Check around What Culture for news, match previews and reports.
Robert loves football, women, other sports, film & tv, music and pro wrestling in that order. If he could have one super power it would be the ability to pause time and asked who he would want for his celebrity best friend he replied with just three letters. N... P.... H!
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