How many people would have plumped for Alan Dzagoev to be Euro 2012’s top scorer before the tournament began? Few, considering his poor campaign in the Russian top-flight – he managed a measly five goals in 31 appearances for CSKA Moscow. Yet, the 21-year-old, who is fast earning a reputation as a deadly finisher on the European stage, followed up his brace against the Czech Republic in the opening game with a clinical header on Tuesday night. Andrey Arshavin’s curling free-kick was weighted perfectly for Dzagoev to direct past Wojciech Szczesny’s replacement Przemyslaw Tyton in the Poland goal. Five of Russia’s last seven strikes at major tournaments have now been scored or assisted by Arsenal midfielder Arshavin. Meanwhile, it was another miserable night for Alexander Kerzhakov, who took his tally to nine shots off target and two blocked – surely Dick Advocaat will now turn to former Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko?
Poland made an impressive start in their quest to win their first game at an international tournament, pegging back a Russian side that were excellent against Czech Republic. In the sixth minute, Eugen Polanski won a soft free-kick down the right ring after a foul by former Chelsea midfielder Yuri Zhirkov. Ludovic Obraniak swung in a delightful delivery, which was guided goalwards by Sebastian Boenisch, but Russia’s goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev produced a remarkable save with his feet to deny the co-hosts. Poland continued to throw men forward, and a delightful sequence of intricate passes saw them unlock Russia’s rearguard, with Polanski slotting his effort past Malafeev – but it was ruled out for offside. With Advocaat’s side struggling to cope with Poland’s tempo, the co-hosts needed to capitalise, and another Obraniak set-piece resulted in an attempt from Marcin Wasilewski, but Malafeev saved again. In the 37th minute Dzagoev scored – it was a sucker punch for Franciszek Smuda’s side after a such a good first half, and they were left to rue missed chances during their purple patch – had they capitalised when on top, then a first tournament win surely beckoned.
Manchester United are reportedly interested in Robert Lewandowski, or at least according to Poland manager Smuda, but the Borussia Dortmund striker struggled to replicate his impressive displays in the Bundesliga against Russia. The 23-year-old, fittingly scorer of the first goal at Euro 2012, had netted seven times in his last five appearances for both club and country, but was well marshalled by Russia’s defence. The closest he came to netting his second goal of the tournament came just after the restart, with Polanski’s inventive pass releasing Lewandowski one-on-one with Malafeev. The Poland striker took the ball wide of the Russian goalkeeper but failed to produce the crucial finish. Despite missing the chance, he continued to lead the attack with tenacity. He resembles Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko in stature, and carries himself on the pitch in a similar manner, although he has a higher work-rate. But with Sir Alex Ferguson already having Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez at his disposal, plus new signing Nick Powell, to all partner the talismanic Wayne Rooney, it is difficult to see what more Lewandowski would add to the Red Devils.
Tuesday being Russia Day made for a special atmosphere and an historic meeting between two of Eastern Europe’s biggest teams. Unfortunately for Smuda, Poland were unable to secure their first win at a major tournament, and are now dangerously close to matching Austria’s exploits at Euro 2008 – or lack thereof – they are the only host nation to fail to win a single group stage match in the history of the competition. Alternatively, Soviet Union/Russia have never beaten a host nation, so another record stood on a night which promised some much in terms of rewriting the history books. Poland can take heart from their plucky second-half display, and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who scored the last time these countries met in a friendly which finished 2-2 in Moscow in August 2007, netted the tournament’s best solo goal to date, cutting in from the right of midfield, and producing a rasping shot on the edge of Russia’s area to secure a vital point. Poland remain unbeaten in Group A, while Russia are in pole position to top the group.
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