8th June, 2012
Russia thrashed the Czech Republic 4-1 while co-hosts Poland drew 1-1 with Greece, as the first European championship in eastern Europe got under way Friday after a rocky build-up hit by racism concerns.
Russia’s tournament got off to a flier in Wroclaw, western Poland, as Alan Dzagoev put them in front on 15 minutes, blasting in from the edge of the box after Aleksandr Kerzhakov saw a close-range header rebound off the post.
A neat finish from Roman Shirokov nine minutes later doubled the lead, despite the Czechs looking the livelier in the opening exchanges.
The Czechs pulled one back seven minutes after the restart when Vaclav Pilar beat the offside trap, sidestepped the goalkeeper and slid the ball home following a through ball from Jaroslav Plasil.
But Dzagoev made it 3-1 in netting a fine right-footed strike after being played in by substitute and former Tottenham star Roman Pavlyuchenko, who promptly smacked in a magnificent fourth for the 2008 semi-finalists with eight minutes remaining.
Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland earlier got their campaign off to a dream start, when Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski headed them in front in the 17th minute before a partisan 50,000 capacity crowd in the capital Warsaw.
Franciszek Smuda’s men were given an advantage of an extra player, as Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second bookable offence shortly before half-time.
But the Poles could not make it count and Dimitris Salpingidis levelled just after the break.
Poland then saw their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sent off for bringing down Salpingidis in the box but this time Greece failed to seize the opportunity, as substitute Przemyslaw Tyton kept out Giorgos Karagounis’ spot kick.
The scoreline dampened the mood for the 50,000 home fans and the tens of thousands more outside, with Warsaw a sea of Polish red and white for the arrival of the showpiece event behind the former Iron Curtain for the first time.
Holders and world champions Spain are favourites to retain the title in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on July 1, although perennial challengers Germany are out to avenge their final defeat from four years ago.
Russia’s emphatic win put them top of Group A, with Dick Advocaat’s men taking on the hosts in Warsaw and the Czechs playing Greece in Wroclaw, both on Tuesday.