Russia Camp Focus - Russians stroll past Italy but will they have the firepower for Euro 2012?
If any of the leading European nations were planning on overlooking the credentials of Group A’s participants, they may need to reconsider. Russia, who kick off their Euro 2012 campaign later this week against Czech Republic in Wroclaw, made the continent sit up and listen with a 3-0 win over Italy on Friday.
Alexander Kerzhakov scored just before the hour mark before two late Roman Shirokov goals secured a convincing victory over the 2006 World Cup winners. The Italians’ capitulation occurred against the backdrop of ongoing accusations of match-fixing in the country’s domestic league, which, admittedly, may have affected their performance. However, nothing should be taken away from the Russians who were potent in attack throughout and now enter the tournament in buoyant mood.
Former national team stalwart Sergey Semak personified that optimism, when speaking to L’Equipe last week. The 65-times capped midfielder also believes Russia’s failure to qualify for the World Cup two years ago will motivate them, saying: “Not making it to South Africa was a bitter blow. That said, the bitterness of the past serves as even greater motivation for a group of players who want to end their careers having lifted a major trophy.”
The Italy victory also lessened the worries which emerged just three days before. Surprisingly, Dick Advocaat’s men failed to breach a Lithuania defence meaning the friendly between the close neighbours ended in a stalemate. Indeed the Lithuanians, ranked 89th in the world, were a match for Russia over the 90 minutes, not only frustrating the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Kerzhakov, but also threatening on the break.
But from Russia’s point of view, the most pleasing aspect of these warm-up matches - which were preceded by a 1-1 draw with Uruguay in Moscow - was that no additional serious injuries were picked up by key men. With Vasiliy Berezutskiy and Roman Shishkin already missing the tournament, the last thing the Russians needed was an injury to one of their marquee names.
Yet it is still a worry to many that the Italy win - over a team who are clearly in crisis, not to mention defensively delicate to say the least - may overshadow the failings against Lithuania. Russia were unable to break down a rigid backline - which is exactly what they will encounter in their three group matches.
The first of those matches comes on Friday night against the Czechs. The consensus seems to be that the team who gets a winning start in Group A, which also includes Poland and Greece, will be immediately installed as favourites to qualify from what is a very well-balanced group. As a result, it could prove to be a tight, nervy encounter. One thing is for sure - Russia’s attack will need to be more potent than against Lithuania last week if they are to continue to worry Europe’s elite.
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