Alan Dzagoev bagged a brace as Russia crushed the Czech Republic 4-1 to go top of Group A, setting themselves up as dark horses for Euro 2012.
Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros shook off muscular strains to start, while Russia gave Vyacheslav Malafeev the gloves despite Igor Akinfeev’s recovery. The Russians were hugely impressive in their pre-tournament 3-0 friendly win over Italy.
The Czechs had most of the early possession, but were caught out on the counter. Konstantin Zyryanov’s cross found Aleksandr Kerzhakov at the back post for a cushioned header that beat the goalkeeper only to come off the post, but Alan Dzagoev put the rebound into the net from nine yards.
Dzagoev really should’ve made it 2-0 moments later with another break, but horribly scuffed wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The second did arrive with a smart angled pass from Andrey Arshavin that went past a crowd of players to the back post, where Roman Shirokov was ready to dink it over the on-rushing Petr Cech. Once again, the defence was slow and distracted, a dangerous approach when Shirokov scored two goals against Italy last week.
Kerzhakov also blasted over from close range, as Russia dominated the first half. However, after the restart the Czechs got back into the game with a through ball that allowed Vaclav Pilar to spring the offside trap and waltz round Malafeev to score from a tight angle.
It was a more even match in the second half, but Kerzhakov blazed several great chances off target from very promising positions. It kept the Czechs in it and they risked an equaliser when the spectacular Theodor Gebre Selassie volley hit the side-netting.
Malafeev needed a fortunate double save on the long-range Tomas Rosicky screamer, though Dzagoev scored his second of the game to restore a two-goal cushion. Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko threaded through for Dzagoev to smash it under the bar.
The result was beyond doubt soon after, as Pavlyuchenko ran rings around Roman Hubnik for a magnificent solo effort into the near top corner despite Cech getting a hand to it.
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic
Scorers: Dzagoev 15, 79 (R), Shirokov 24 (R), Pilar 52 (C), Pavlyuchenko 82 (R)
Russia: Malafeev; Anyukov, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov; Dzagoev (Kokorin 85), Kerzhakov (Pavlyuchenko 73), Arshavin
Czech Republic: Cech; Gebre Selassie, Hubnik, Sivok, Kadlec; Plasil, Jiracek (Petrzela 75); Pilar, Rosicky, Rezek (Hubschman 46); Baros (Lafata 85)
Ref: Webb (Eng)