Russia took the early lead in Euro 2012's Group A, courtesy of an impressive 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Wroclaw, Poland.

After Poland and Greece drew in the competition's opening game, earlier on Friday, Russia will now be heavy favorites to make the last eight. Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov set them on their way to what appeared a comfortable victory before Vaclav Pilar's strike early in the second-half brought the Czechs back into contention. But, in the final 11 minutes, a second strike from Dzagoev, coupled with a fine individual goal from Roman Pavlyuchenko, saw Russia run out clear and deserved winners.

The one real selection dilemma for Russia coach Dick Advocaat before kick-off was who to select in goal. The Dutchman ultimately surprising many byr going for the elder but internationally less experienced Vyacheslav Malafeev ahead of Igor Akinfeev.

In contrast of things to come. it was the Czechs who began the brighter of the two sides, defender Roman Hubnik heading wide from Jaroslav Plasil's freekick after five minutes.

Yet, despite the Czech Republic controlling the ball early, Russia took the lead 15 minutes in. Konstantin Zyryanov provided a dangerous the cross from the right to find Alexander Kerhakov, whose header back across goal struck the post, but with the Czech defenders slow to react, Dzagoev pounced and dirlled the ball home.

With the Czech defense still apparently shell-shocked, they left wide open space to allow Dzagoev a clear-cut opportunity to make it two. But on this occasion the CSKA Moscow man's composure deserted him as he sliced his shot wide from the right of the area.

Russia would not have to wait long to extend their lead, though, with the Czech defense again providing gaping holes. Captain Andrey Arshavin cut inside from his nominal position on the left and was allowed time to thread a low ball through into the box. It appeared as though the Russian captain was looking for the run of Kerzhakov, but instead the ball ran all the way through to the forward-breaking Roman Shirokov who produced a clever dinked finish over Petr Cech.

While the Czechs continued to have an even share of possession they lacked any penetration in the final third. The one man looking capable of providing some impetus, Petr Kiracek, coming as close as any of his teammates with a thunderous long-range drive just past the angle of the goal on the stroke of half time.

With Russia looking likely to cruise to victory, Michal Bilek's side brought themselves back into the game just after the break. Taking an unfortunate lesson from their opponents, Russia allowed far too much space in front of their back four, enabling Plasil to play a perfectly-weighted through ball for Vaclav Pilar, who confidently rounded Malifeev and finished into the unguarded net.

To the pleasure of neutrals. both sides continued to show no little attacking ambition and consequently allowed ample room in the middle of the pitch for their opponent's to exploit.

And Arshavin was displaying the type of form that must have had Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger scratching his head in frustration. In the 68th minute the man on-loan at Zenit St Petersburg again cut in from the left before playing a delightful through ball that this time succeeded in finding its primary target. Kerzhakov was the recipient, but the forward was unable to take advantage as he dragged his low shot wide of Cech's far post.

As Russia continued to look dangerous breaking at pace, Kerzhakov persisted in spurning the opportunities that fell his way. Moments after his previous miss, he cut inside onto his left foot on the edge of the area but sliced his shot horribly wide.

As well as he linked up with Arshavin and Dzagoev, Kerzhakov soon paid the price for his profligacy as he was replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko.

While Russia always looked favorites to get the next goal, there was always the risk that the Czechs would grab an equalizer. Something that Russia were reminded of as Tomas Rosicky hit a fierce low shot that Malafeev did well to block.

But, ultimately the Czechs were punished for some more errant defending. A failed interception left them all at sea on the edge of their own box, allowing substitute Pavlyuchenko to lay a first-time ball through to Dzagoev, who showed no hesitation in lashing a right-foot shot past the out-stretched hand of Cech.

And Pavlyuchenko was at the fore once more as he put himself firmly in the frame for a starting spot. The former Tottenham man turned beleaguered Roman Hubnik inside and out on the edge of the Czech box before unleashing a powerful high drive that beat Cech at his near post.

Favorites to progress before a ball was kicked, Russia should move on from Group A at a canter if they can replicate the type of form on display here. And, who knows, on this evidence at least a repeat of their semifinal run at Euro 2008 may even be on the cards.


[www.online-soccer.ru] Russia 4-1 Czech Republic... by all-goals