More please! That was the reflex request after this tournament's opening game this afternoon, an affair that was expected to be the more dreary of the Group A curtain-raisers but turned out to be quite the lark. Attacking verve, jarring speed and dramatic twists, Poland and Greece served up a spectacle that really didn't need to be spiced up by absurd refereeing but was, nonetheless. Russia and the Czech Republic certainly have the ability to crank the quality rating up even higher … and it would not be a complete surprise if Howard Webb outdid the hijinks of his Spanish counterpart in the early fixture. So stay tuned!
Russia are the favourites and, indeed, many people's crafty fancy for a semi-final place, at least. They're a resolutely attacking side and capable of eminently nifty interplay even though that renowned purveyor of happy vibes, Andrei Arshavin, says "we lack too much speed to go far." Maybe they do lack speed, but they have a core of players from Zenit St Petersburg and ingenuity a-plenty from tricksters such as Alan Dzagoev, Marat Izmailov (who starts on the bench tonight) and even Arshavin himself. Roman Shirokov will drive menacingly from midfield; and I've placed a modest sum on Aleksandr Kerzakhov to be the tournament's top scorer.
The Czechs, meanwhile, do not look like especially daunting opponents. They finished miles behind Spain in the qualifying group and only edged out Scotland thanks to an ignoble dive at Hampden Park. Half of their four victories in the qualifiers were against Liechtenstein. Nonetheless, let's not be a giddy Spanish ref and dismiss them too rashly: for they have a decent wideman - Jan Rezek and Vaclav Pilar - on either flank and Rosicky prompting behind, um, Milan Baros, the man on whom everyone claims to have staked a tenner to be top scorer back in Euro 2004, when his pre-tournament odds were 50-1. I'll give you 5,000,000-1 on him winning a gilded boot again here.
Russia: Malafeev; Anyukov, Ignashevich, Berezutski, Zhirkov; Denisov, Shirokov, Zyryanov; Arshavin, Kerzhakov, Dzagoev
Czech Republic: Cech; Gebre Selassie, Kadlec, Hubnik, Sivok; Rezek, Plasil, Rosicky, Jiracek, Pilar; Baros
Ref: Howard Webb
Factoid: Averaging out player weights, Russia have the lightest squad at Euro 2012, giving seven kilos per man to today's opponents. Which means, erm, that the Czechs should have the edge in the scrums.
Mr Tayto's joyless elder brother.A rather drab national anthem, the Czech one, not at all evoking the jazz cafes that used to abound in Prague before the city was over-run by fast food joints and strip clubs. The Russian hymn is a more uplifting affair, although Dick Advocaat remains steadfastly uninspired by it, apparently, as he stands impassive on the sideline like
The Russians get the game going with a textbook tip-off. And within two seconds Webb must blow his whistle as Rezek clonks Kerzakhov. "I could be mistaken but I'm pretty certain I saw Martin Atkinson signal a goal as he was emerging from the tunnel," quips JR in Illinois.
3 min: The Czechs, who by the sounds of things have far more fans in the stadium, win the first corner and come close to making it count, as Russia fail to deal with the delivery properly and the ball almost run to Hubnik, but instead goes out for anoither corner. This time Malafeev punches it soundly to safety.
5 min: Plasil curls as freekick in from the left, Hubnik nuts it over the bar. But a reasonable opening from the Czechs. Russian are yet to get into their groove. What they need is one of those famously uplifting pep talks from their captain. Come on Andriy!
7 min: Dzagoev has been bigged up as one of the potential stars of this tournament because of his canny movement and influence. But his first touch, moments ago, was to tonk the ball straight out of play when a deft pass might have put Kerzakhov through.
9 min: Russia's continuing sluggishness is buoying the Czechs, who are making more and more inroads. Gebre Selassie has just raided all the way down the left wing before feeding Jiracek, who danced past two Russians ... and then mislaid his cross.
12 min: Russia really are inexcusably indolent. The Czechs are nothing special at all but are being allowed to canter into space all over the pitch - a better team than them would already have already exploited it and be a goal or two up.
14 min: That's better from Russia. Arshavin slid a lovely pass through to the overlapping Zhirkov, who pulled a pass back from the by-line to Kerzakhov, whose side-footer went wide.
GOAL! Russia 1-0 Czech Republic (Dzagoev 15') Zyranov clipped a beautiful cross to Kerzahov, whose header from eight yards rebounded out of the post ... but Dzagoev follwed up to hammer it into the net from 12 yards.
17 min: You have to fear for the Czechs now. Russia gave them the initiative but they weren't good enough to take advantage and now Russia have found their mojo and are starting to zip the ball around with gusto.
19 min: Dzagoev should have scored again! A slick Russian counterattack ripped the Czechs asunder and Dzagoev, completely unmarked, was presented with a chance to do whatever he liked with the ball from 18 yards. Composure abandoned him, however, and he slashed wildly wide.
21 min: Baros does well to skip past Zhirkov down the right but no one was expecting him to do so, thus his subsequent cross went to waste. "The Czech's response will depend on which Rosicky we get to see," hums Matt Dony. "The January-May model, who was at the heart of so much creativity and drive, or the pre-Christmas travesty, who generally appeared to be playing against Arsenal."
23 min: Russia do not look very stable when defending set-pieces. Another Plasil corner was allowed to float to an opponent, but Rezek's header was saved.
GOAL! Russia 2-0 Czech Republic (Shirokov 24') After Plasil gives the ball away in midfield, a prompt pass from Arshavin dissects the static Czech defence and Shirokov dinks the ball over Cech. They could fill their boots today.
27 min: Trickery by Arshavin wide on the right, followed by an inviting low ball across the face of goal. But it narrowly eludes Zyranov.
29 min: Russia defend a set-piece well! Plasil's freekick is repelled by the first man. "This is already a better tournament than World Cup 2010," notes Alistair Walker. And he has a point.
32 min: Nearly three! Arshavin whizzes down the left and then cuts the ball back for Kerzakhov, who fires inches over! The swine is taunting me and my bet! he should have a hat-trick by now. "That Russian No10 is tasty," cooes Adam Hirst. "Fast, tricky, energetic, interested. Be a few English clubs looking at him I imagine." Careful, that's the sort of AA that could drive a fan to drink. Having said that, you're right, Arshavin has turned terrific after an insignificant first 10 minutes.
36 min: Czechs' best chance of getting back into this is if the Russian midfield start getting complacent and not tracking runs. Signs of this are already becoming apparent but, again, the Czechs have not been able to summon enough precision in their passing to punish the slackness. And going forward, the Russians continue to look intent on enjoying themselves. "Did anyone else see Arshavin on A Question of Sport?" asks Steve Waterhouse. "Despite speaking next to no English, he was completely charming." I didn't see that. How did he convey his charm?
40 min: As the game goes through a lull, my colleague Henry McDonald has news of a banner that Irish fans are displaying as they party in Poland tonight. It reads: "Angela Merkel thinks we're at work!"
42 min: Gebre Selassie lashes down the right again and wins a corner off Zhirkov. But Plasil slipped as the tried to deliver and the ball does not go into the danger zone.
45 min: Kerzakhov collects the ball wide on the right and has a chance to eitehr dart into the box are pick out a team-mate who is already there. But he does neither.
Half-time: Greece mounted an improbable turn-around in the second half earlier today but a Czech comeback seems even more unlikely here. They simply do not appear to be good enough to make best use of the space that the Russians occassionally give them. Advocaat might be minded to make a substitute or two to prevent his team sliding any further into complacency. Some Izmailov and Pogrebynak action would go down well, for instance. Russia could win by four or five if they're bothered.
46 min: Czech substitution: Hubschman on for Rezek. That seems an attempt to shore things up and prevent the concession of more goals, which might torpedo their chances of scraping through the group on goal difference. That shouldn't concern them: on this evidence they are infgerior to Poland and Greece and will be eliminated on points.
48 min: Russia still need to go up a gear, the infuriating slackers. "I think although our attack looks strong, our defensive line is not that stable and sometimes look really sloppy and not confident enough," declares Anton from Siberia. "It can cost us some nervous finish unless we score one or two more goals before the final 20 minutes of the match. Hopefully, our Dutch coach has made some punishment during the break." Some punishment certainly deserved to be made.
50 min: Arshavin nnudges a cute ball through to Kerzakhov, who loses his balance as he's prepared to shoot. A minute later Kerzakhov is presetned with another opportunity but bog-toes the ball wide from the edge of the area.
GOAL! Russia 2-1 Czech Republic (Pilar 52') Russia are eventually punished for their negligence! Plasil was given enough room to swing an elephant in midfield. But that would have been ridiculous so, after sizing up his options, he instead slipped a lovely pass through to Pilar, who rounded the goalkeeper to slot into the net. A game that should have been over is now back on.
54 min: Rosicky, seemingly invigorated by that goal, hurtles down the right and wins a corner. Again Plasil's delivery is met by a Czech but Gebre Selassie couldn't direct his header on target.
55 min: Shirokov drives from deep ... and then gets completely carried away and attempts to find the top corner from 25 yards. Instead he found Finland. "This is completely apropos of nothing, but an advert's just been on during the break for a well known brand of orange juice in which an orange grower informs us 'Each glass contains the juice of two oranges. Bet you didn't know that'," reveals Phil Sawyer. "Now, I may be a naive waif set adrift trying to make sense of this interminably complex world, but surely the one thing one expects to find in a glass of orange juice is, well, orange juice. Or do advertisers now assume viewers are so stupid they need these things spelled out to them?" Presumably they thought everyone just figures these days that what is marketed as orange juice is in fact artifically coloured ditch water.
58 min: A promising Russian counter-attack founders when Shirokov gives the ball away when options were ample.
60 min: Baros has battled gamely on his lonesome up front but failed to get much change from the centrebacks. Pekhart might be a useful introduction at this point.
63 min: Zyranov wallops the ball well wide from 25 yards. Rather than show a replay, the cameraman decides to pan to a pretty blonde lady in the crowd. Again.
65 min: Kerzakhov! You clown! After a superb through-ball by Arshavin, the striker slashes wastefully wide yet again! He should have already secured the golden boot - and my fortune - by now.
68 min: Is he doing this on purpose? Kerzakhov romps down the right and all the way into a prime shooting position ... before whacking the ball way, way wide.
69 min: No, no, no! Kerzakhov gets the ball at the edge of the area ... cuts on to his left foot ... and blazes the ball into the stands!
72 min: Cracking effort by ... no, not Kerzakhov, obviously ... but rather Gebre Selassie, who met a cross-field ball with a delicious volley that smacked the sidenetting.
74 min: The inevitable has come to pass: Pavlyuchenko replaces Kerzakhov, who will presumably attmept to find a place on the bench but end up falling on to the grass.
76 min: Czech subtitution: Petzrela on, Jiracek off. "My goodness," gasps Brian Cloughley. "Having never seen Kerzhakov play but having read numerous half arsed tournament previews I was very tempted to put some money on him as top scorer too. Luckily I've learned my lesson from backing Jared Borgetti in successive World Cups." Borgetti, in fairness, did score one of the greatest headers of all time, at the 2006 World Cup.
79 min: Zhirkov darts into the box before his shot is deflected behind for a corner. meanwhile, here's Hugo Carreira with a true story. "A few years ago, here in Portugal, a friend who works as an accountant went to a factory of fruit sodas, as part of his work, to check where the money was spent. The owner was showing him around, proudly explaining everything to him, when my friend had the bad idea of asking where did they keep the fruit? The guy looked at him as if he were a neanderthal and said: "this is a state of the art facility, we don't use fruit."
GOAL! Russia 3-1 Czech Republic (Dzagoev 79') Perhaps that's where my money should have gone. A breaking ball falls to Pavlyuchenko, who knocked into the path of Dzagoev, who shows Kerzakhov how to finish by blasting into the net from 18 yards.
81 min: As the Russian fans jig in the stand, Mat Schulz feels the need to dances on my pain by revealing that Opta stats show that Kerzakhov is the first player in the history of the European Championship to hit seven shots off target in a single game.
GOAL! Russia 4-1 Czech Republic (Pavlyuchenko 82') As if to ensure that Kerzakhov does not feature again in this tournament, his replacement collects the ball inside the box, holds off his marker and thunders an unstoppable net past Cech.
84 min: Dzagoev, following an excellent display, trots off to be replaced by Kokorin.
86 min: Plasil curls a 25-yard freekick over the bar.
87 min: Arshavin slides another fine pass through to Kokorin, who creates room for a shot with a foxy flick past Kadlec ... but Cech saves.
90 min: Gebre Selassie, who has looked decent, attempts a shot from 25-yards. That wasn't so decent.
Full-time: A richly entertaining game ruined only by the wonky shooting of Kerzakhov. Russian were brilliant with the ball, yet strangely prone to lapses of interest, which could cost them against better opposition.