Group favourites Russia made things a little bit more difficult for themselves than they really should have, but still ended up demolishing the Czech Republic in their opening match. It became abundantly clear who the more dangerous team was when Alan Dzagoev opened the scoring fifteen minutes in, mopping up after Alexander Kerzhakov hit the post with a header, and Roman Shirokov made it 2-0 with a deft finish past Petr Cech to make it 2-0 before a half hour had even passed.
It wasn't that the Czechs were bad, per se, but all of their goodness was concentrated in the midfield, with very little going forward and not much in defence either. Russia had the bulk of the chances in the first half despite a fairly even possession split - they were superb on the counterattack and the Czechs had no answer in the first half.
It looked as though that had changed after the break, with Vaclav Pilar hauling his side back into the match with a superb goal. The midfielder was played clean through by a through ball from Jaroslav Plasil, who took advantage Alexander Anyukov blowing an offside trap, and Pilar coolly rounded Vyacheslav Malafeev before slotting home from a tight angle.
The Czechs still had to attack, however, and that opened them up for the counter. Russia had several clear chances only to do ... well, not much of anything with them. Although his header early in the first half led directly to the opener, Kerzhakov was having a shocker. Andrei Arshavin* kept feeding him the ball behind the defence, and Kerzhakov kept missing by what looked like several miles each time.
*Who was absolutely sublime all match - the man can still play some football, despite his form with Arsenal early last season.
Eventually Russia got bored of the farce and replaced him with former Tottenham Hotspur man Roman Pavlyuchenko, and the goals started flowing once again. Pavlyuchenko was vital in the first, feeding Dzagoev with an incisive pass which the 21-year-old buried for his second goal of the game. Minutes later, it was Pavlyuchenko himself on the scoresheet after he jinked back and forth through the Czech penalty box before slotting a low shot past Cech.
The final kick of the match looked like a consolation goal for the Czechs, but Milan Petrzela's tidy finish ended up ruled out by the offside flag, which was a bit of a shame because the strike was so pretty. Anyway, the game never should have been in doubt, but thanks to some poor finishing in the second half the Czech Republic were in it for much of the second half. 4-1 was probably a fair score on balance of play, but if Russia had been sharper they could have been looking at a five or six-goal win.