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Russia went into this match with the confidence of a team which beat their previous opponents comfortably (4-1 against the Czech Republic), and that had won 7 of their previous 14 games against Poland. Well, this time they weren’t victorious though, the game ending in a 1-1 draw.
Their head coach Dick Advocaat had named an unchanged starting XI for tonight’s game to the one that started the first group game. Yet again we saw an attacking formation with Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Andrey Arshavin tormenting the opposition defence.
Poland’s manager Franciszek Smuda had made two changes to the team that started against Greece in the Euro 2012 opener 4 days ago. Przemyslaw Tyton started at goal instead of the banned Wojciech Szczesny, and Dariusz Dudka was chosen to start in midfield instead of Maciej Rybus.
Both sides started brightly, but it was the Poles who had the better opportunities in the opening minutes. Malafeev had to come to the rescue in the 7th minute, when Boenisch had a chance to score from close range. The Russian keeper reacted perfectly though and put the ball behind for a corner.
A bit later on Lewandowski saw his shot miss the target narrowly, after he’d struck a powerful volley from outside the area. In the 18th minute Polanski scored for the hosts, but his goal was ruled out because of an offside.
From the 20th minute onwards it was an evenly-matched encounter, with both teams having chances to score and not being able to do so. Until the 37th minute that is, when Alan Dzagoev got his third goal of the tournament. Andrey Arshavin curled a free-kick from the left, the CSKA Moscow man made a perfect run in the box and headed the ball past the helpless Tyton, 1-0 for Russia.
Blaszczykowski, the Poland captain, had a decent chance to equalize right away, but his shot was saved by Malafeev. That was also the last good opportunity of a first half that was dominated by the hosts, but Russia were the ones to convert their best chance.
The second part kicked off in the same way as the first had- with the Poles dominating and the Russians relying mostly on quick attacks down the wings. But this time Poland’s domination resulted in a goal which was scored by the captain Jakub Blaszczykowski.
Ludovic Obraniak made a rapid run down the right in the 57th minute, passed the ball to the skipper who cut inside Zhirkov and smashed it into the top right corner of Malafeev’s goal. As excellent as the Russian goalie had been all night, there was no chance for him to save this one, a brilliant strike.
The hosts continued being the better team in the remaining half an hour. Eugen Polanski, the Mainz 05 midfielder, particularly impressed, and head coach Smuda will be worried for his man, as he had to substitute him because of injury.
Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski and Boenisch had decent chances to score, but they either couldn’t find the target or they couldn’t get past Malafeev. Dick Advocaat responded by substituting the again disappointing Kerzhakov with Pavlyuchenko, but this didn’t have the desired effect.
One of the few players who plays outside of Russia, Marat Izmailov of Portuguese giants Sporting was also brought on, replacing the goal scorer Dzagoev, but he too wasn’t able to help his team get the 3 points.
All in all we saw a very interesting match between two evenly-matched sides, although for huge periods of the game Poland had the upper hand. This Group A is still open though, as practically all 4 teams have the chance to progress to the next round. Russia are leading with 4 points, followed by the Czech Republic with 3, Poland with 2 and Greece with 1.
Which teams will continue their participation, and which will go home- we’ll find out on the 16th of June.
Poland1-1 Russia (HT 0-1)
Sports UN Man of the match: Jakub Blaszczykowski
Poland (4-2-3-1): Tyton, Boenisch, Wasilewski, Perquis, Piszczek, Dudka (73 Mierzejewski), Polanski (84 Matuszczyk), Obraniak (90 Brozek), Murawski, Blaszczykowski, Lewandowski; Manager: Franciszek Smuda
Russia (4-3-3): Malafeev, Anyukov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, A. Berezutski, Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov, Dzagoev (79 Izmailov), Arshavin, Kerzhakov (69 Pavlyuchenko); Manager: Dick Advocaat
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER)
Goals: Blaszczykowski 57; Dzagoev 37
Bookings: Lewandowski 60, Polanski 79; Denisov 60, Dzagoev 75