TEAMtalk reflects on the talking points from Russia's 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Friday's Euro 2012 Group A clash in Wroclaw.
Russia produced four of the five goals as they and the Czech Republic capped an encouragingly dramatic opening day of Euro 2012. This game had plenty to enjoy - both good and bad - as we saw just about every finish imaginable in Wroclaw. Here, we look at some of the key talking points as Russia blasted their way to the top of Group A.
Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov both scored for Russia on the counter-attack in the first half-hour of the game. At that stage, the Czechs looked a beaten side but wasteful Russian finishing and a delicious goal from Vaclav Pilar ensured the contest remained in the balance well into the second half. But eventually, Dzagoev fired home his second of the evening before substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko netted emphatically to seal the win. So what were the stories of this free-flowing game?
On the counter
Counter-attacking football is already emerging as a theme of Euro 2012. It is often a pattern of play at international level, hence the importance of making possession count. But on the opening day of this summer's finals in Poland and Ukraine, it was executed to an expert level to give a tantalising glimpse of what could be in store through the rest of June. First, Poland spent a first half tormenting Greece, and then Russia, who so masterly hit teams on the break when reaching the semi-finals in 2008, gave the Czech Republic a lesson.
You don't always need a sledgehammer and sickle to crack a nut. Kerzhakov tended to blast every chance he had and, though Dzagoev's two goals both came from putting his foot through the ball, he also wasted an excellent opportunity by plumping for power. In contrast, Shirokov showed what can be achieved with a touch of guile, cheek and composure by cleverly lifting the ball over Petr Cech for Russia's second goal.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov was handed the task of leading the Russian line and you couldn't fault the way the Zenit St Petersburg striker's movement pulled the Czech defence all over the place. However, his finishing was abysmal and his record-breaking seven shots off target became increasingly wayward. With substitute Pavlyuchenko scoring, Kerzhakov will be fearing for his place against Poland.
Yes they were wasteful, but there are clearly goals in this side. With many teams at Euro 2012 lacking a stand-out number nine, this could be a tournament where it will require a number of players chipping in for a nation to go all the way. With strike options aplenty and goalscorers everywhere you look in midfield, Russia look like a team with the goal threat to cause any opponent problems this summer.
Michal Kadlec has had a good season for Bayer Leverkusen but that will count for little as far as Czech fans are concerned after a miserable opening half hour in Wroclaw. It wasn't just that Russia's precision counter-attacks caught the 27-year-old left-back out of position - although they did for both goals. But it was also Kadlec's haphazard attempt to retrieve the situation. How can a player be so lackadaisical in the early stages of his team's opening game at a major tournament?
Though the Czechs rarely tested Russia, the centre-half pairing of Aleksei Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich looks like it could be exploited. There were times in the first half when there appeared to be too much space between the two defenders, while a reliance on playing offside hints at a lack of pace which was exposed by the Czechs' goal.
While Milan Baros retains some of the pace of his youth, the Czechs can appear one-paced going forward. Baros, Tomas Rosicky, Jaroslav Plasil and Jan Rezek as well as half-time substitute Tomas Hubschman are all the wrong side of 30. That places huge emphasis on the role of 23-year-old Pilar to provide the energy and enthusiasm for Bilek's men going forward. He certainly did so for the goal - providing the perfect run for Plasil's inch-perfect through ball - but it's quite a responsibility to be the legs for this ageing outfit.
From a distance, there was a moment in the first half when I thought I was watching the Czech team which reached the Euro 96 final. On the left wing, taking on defenders and with locks flowing down to the shoulders, it looked like Patrik Berger was back in action. Alas, it was a pale imitation in the guise of Petr Jiracek.