Alan Dzagoev: Bloc rocking beatsWhat an opening day at Euro 2012. Comedy goalkeeping, comedy refereeing, two red cards, seven goals and some unhinged, end-to-end football. On an unforgettable night, we were also privileged to witness the emergence of some previously unheralded European stars.
Early Doors was particularly taken by a talented forward in the Russia side. Playing off the lone striker, he wreaked havoc all evening in his side's ominous 4-1 hammering of Czech Republic. ED has had to double check the spelling, but his name is apparently Andrei Arshavin. God knows where he has been hiding for the past few years, but he would be a fantastic signing for a club like Arsenal.
So too this man named Roman Pavlyuchenko. Coming on as a substitute, the striker supplied an assist with 11 minutes to go and then scored a wonderful effort of his own, jinking away from his man 15 yards out and smashing a fierce effort past Petr Cech, who got a despairing finger to the shot. Such ability would be a lovely asset for Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur.
In all seriousness, there is something about the Euros that brings the best out of modern Russia. The most expansive, exciting side at Euro 2008, last night in Wroclaw they assumed firm control of Group A with a wonderfully electric performance. Czech Republic were dire at the back, but Russia exploited the space afforded to them to the full.
Early Doors had the privilege of watching the action unfold in Kharkiv's fan zone. Situated less than 30 miles from the Russian border, this city in eastern Ukraine has a big population of ethnic Russians and two students whom ED engaged in a slightly inebriated chat following the final whistle revealed how many in the area speak Russian as a first language.
Chants of "Russ-ill-ya" became ever louder with each passing goal and a firework display greeted the final whistle. In what felt like a 'home' occasion, the thousands amassed at Svobody Square enjoyed the show put on by Dick Advocaat's side.
"We are quite happy, we scored four goals and in any international game that is a very good result," said the Dutchman. "We could have scored more goals, in fact we should have scored more as we had a lot of chances. At 2-1 we made it very difficult for ourselves so we have to get better at that because maybe a better team would have scored more against us. It could have been 2-2, there were moments where we need to be sharper, at certain points they had a lot of space and were very dangerous. But this was our first game and we are really happy with the result."
The most eye-catching contribution came from the 21-year-old CSKA Moscow playmaker Alan Dzagoev, who became the second youngest player to score twice at the European Championship after an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney's contribution at Euro 2004.
Just a few months after Rooney announced his arrival on the world stage with some ebullient performances in Portugal, Dzagoev was at school in Beslan, North Ossetia, when armed separatists seized another school in the town and forced a hostage crisis that eventually ended in the slaughter of 334 people, mostly children.
There is something special about this little attacker and while he did not exert the kind of control over the game that he can when at his best, his two goals were well taken and his individual performance has set the benchmark for young talent in Poland and Ukraine.
More influential to the overall flow of the game was a rejuvenated Arshavin. A return to Zenit St Petersburg on loan appears to have reinvigorated a player who seemingly sulked his way through most of last season for Arsenal, his body language reminiscent of a teenager who has been told that he has to do his homework rather than sneak a bottle of cider down to the local park.
At Arsenal, he become the personification of Winston Churchill's famous description of Russia as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
ED almost began to admire the staunch refusal of Arshavin to do any kind of tracking back at Arsenal, his signature pose being hands placed on thighs and rosy cheeks puffed out after an exhausting 10-yard burst. But in Wroclaw, here was the player we grew to love so much during his time at Zenit and at Euro 2008, when he seared his name into the tournament's annals with explosive performances against Sweden and Netherlands.
Coach Dick Advocaat was certainly impressed by the forward, who picked up two assists from his position playing off the left — curiously where has he floundered for Arsenal on so many occasions. "He worked very hard and played very well," said Advocaat. "He is a very important player for us. I am very positive about him."
Russia's margin of victory could have been even greater were it not for Alexander Kerzhakov. The Zenit St Petersburg striker had a nightmare in attack, becoming the first player to have seven shots off target in a single game at the Euros since 1980.
In fact, such was the ineptitude of his performance, it would surely have been more at home in the utterly shambolic but unutterably brilliant opening game of the tournament that saw co-hosts Poland draw 1-1 with Greece.
It veered thrillingly from the ridiculous to the sublime: from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo's unfathomable decision to send off Sokratis Papastathopoulos for two yellow cards to Wojciech Szczesny's mistake for the first goal and then his own subsequent dismissal; from the brilliant impact made by substitute Dimitris Salpingidis as he scored with his first touch to the heroics of Poland's Przemyslaw Tyton as he saved a penalty with his.
Dispelling the cliché that opening fixtures are always cagey affairs, this was a high-octane contest, a wonderful way to start the tournament. But for ED, the abiding memory of day one will be those wonderful, rejuvenated Russians.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You would have to say it might be over with England for me. If I'm not getting picked now, especially when people are out injured, then it's unlikely I will be picked again. I always said I wouldn't retire from international football until I stopped playing and I won't. I will still be available. And I will be watching England and cheering them on at the Euros because it's my country and I want us to do well." — Rio Ferdinand shows slightly more restraint than his agent when reacting to his absence from England's Euro 2012 squad.
FOREIGN VIEW: Open training sessions are usually somewhat sterile affairs, a bunch of players ambling between cones and indulging in some kick-ups, but sometimes they throw up the odd gem, such as this rather brilliant goal scored by Wesley Sneijder in front of ED's very own eyes at Metalist Stadium yesterday.