Wroclaw, June 9
Russia delivered a sparkling performance on the opening day of Euro 2012 to put the other contenders on notice that they are capable of going the whole way this time round.
The Russians - made up of a large part of the talented side that reached the semi-finals in 2008 - put four past the Czech Republic in a 4-1 hammering, including a double from impressive young attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev.
The earlier Group A match had seen co-hosts Poland held 1-1 by Euro 2004 champions Greece in an incident-packed match that saw both sides end the game with 10-men.
Polish replacement ‘keeper Przemyslaw Tyton was the co-hosts unlikely saviour as he saved Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis’s penalty just seconds after coming on when first choice Wojciech Szczesney was sent off.
For 35-year-old Karagounis it was the flip side of the coin as he had scored in the Euro 2004 opener against hosts Portugal in the surprise win that launched them on their unlikely trip to the title.
However, it was the Russian’s stunning display that will have title holders Spain, 2008 finalists Germany and 2010 World Cup finalists Holland sitting up and taking notice.
Zagoev, who has only just regained full fitness after recovering from a broken toe, took the eye but so did the older heads of captain Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, the latter also getting on the score sheet.
Both had inconsistent spells with English Premier League giants and North London rivals Arsenal and Spurs, though, whilst Pavlyuchenko has made his move back home permanent more displays like this and Arsenal will wish to retain Arshavin’s services.
Pavlyuchenko’s goal and the fourth for the Russians left the Czechs great goalkeeper Petr Cech looking stunned and puffing out his cheeks at the rare event of him having to pick the ball out of his net so often.
However, Russia’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat was not over enthusiastic over the performance reflecting his vast experience garnered over the years.
"Favourites? It is important to win the first game, but it is at the end when one lifts the trophy, not now," said the 64-year-old.
However, Czech coach Michal Bilek was nothing but admirative of the Russians.
"I am very disappointed, it is an impressive result for Russia," said Bilek.
"The Russians are group favourites, they are really strong. their combinations really posed us a lot of problems, with their touch we simply were chasing ghosts and we weren’t patient enough.
"But now we must show our mental strength, I believe we can qualify from the group."
The Czechs will need to rebound from this serious reverse for next up they have the resilient Greeks, who are dead set on at the very least reaching the last eight and with the spirit they showed on Friday will be hard to beat.
"We never give up, and because we never give up, we don’t like to lose games. And that’s something you cannot buy or find. It’s all about the mentality in the dressing room," said Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras.
The Poles go on now to face the Russians and will definitely be looking to Tyton to repeat his heroics against such a potent attacking unit while they will also need to take their chances they wasted against the Greeks.
For Tyton, though, the Russians could wait as he soaked up the moment.
"I felt like I was in a dream, this was the chance I really wanted to help the team.
"I am happy that, thank God, I saved this penalty kick," he told uefa.com