Russia’s recent high-water mark came four years ago at the 2008 European Championship when they made a surprising run to the semifinals.
After missing the 2010 World Cup, they arrived at Euro 2012 looking for a long-awaited follow-up.
So far, so good.
Russia thrashed the Czech Republic with an offensive onslaught led by Alan Dzagoev to take a 4-1 victory. With the win, the Russians grabbed the top spot in Group A. Poland and Greece played to a 1-1 draw in the tournament opener in Warsaw.
Dzagoev was Johnny on the spot in the 15th minute when Alexander Kerzhakov’s header clanged off the post and right into Dzagoev’s stride. He blasted the ball past Petr Cech and into the back of the net for the first of his two tallies on the night.
Nine minutes later, Roman Shirokov doubled Russia’s advantage and sent them into the half with a 2-0 lead.
Vaclav Pilar got on the end of a brilliant through ball, navigated a charging Vyacheslav Malafeev and tucked home a goal to bring the Czech Republic back to life. But their risky play in the midfield cost them again in the 79th minute when Dzagoev blasted another right-footed shot past Cech from 18 feet away.
The final goal was perhaps the finest on a night when everything was working for the Russian offense. Euro 2008 hero and second-half substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko worked his way inside the box, turned and hammered a curling right-footed bomb inside the near post for the final margin.
Russia was already a dangerous side coming into the tournament, but with a two-point cushion atop the group and the depth to bring Pavlyuchenko off the bench, Friday’s display puts them comfortably atop Group A after Day 1. Next up: co-host Poland on Tuesday in Warsaw.
As for the Czech Republic, it was another disappointing start to a marquee tournament, and they’ll need to shore things up in their own end to produce a better showing against defensive-minded Greece.