It's always a nice feeling when predictions come off, doubly so when there's a decent result accompanying it. On the eve of Poland's second Group A game against Russia, I got a nod from a good source that Dariusz Dudka would come into the starting lineup to form a three-man central midfield, with Maciej Rybus dropping to the bench. It was a logical switch for coach Franciszek Smuda to make and by and large it worked.
The plan was twofold – to sit deep enough not to get caught out by lightning counterattacks, invariably instigated by the rejuvenated Andrey Arshavin, and to make the central midfield area as congested as possible, thus preventing Russia from making the defence-splitting passes we saw in their first match against the Czech Republic.
As the hinge between both ends of the team, Dudka was pivotal in achieving this alchemy, ably assisted by Eugen Polanski and Rafał Murawski either side of him. The fluidity and speed of Russia's front three was a major concern before the game but Dick Advocaat's men never hit the same heights on this occasion, with passes frequently overhit and misdirected as a result of intense Polish pressing.
Robert Lewandowski may have been an isolated figure up front at times, yet this wasn't simply a backs-to-the-wall performance by the co-hosts. Captain Jakub Błaszczykowski raided effectively down the right flank, Polanski joined in from midfield, while the subtle promptings of Ludovic Obraniak – who supplied the assist for the skipper's equaliser – were also a threat.
Occasionally they rode their luck at the back but having dealt with the initial danger, the Poland rearguard would have been disappointed about the manner of Alan Dzagoev's 37th-minute opener. It was a cheap goal to concede and I'm sure the otherwise excellent Łukasz Piszczek will be the first to admit he should not have allowed the PFC CSKA Moskva man to run off him and score a glancing header.
Thereafter, it was a question of character for the co-hosts. Lesser sides would have buckled but Smuda's young ensemble roared back in the second half, their effervescence typified by Błaszczykowski's wonderful strike which sealed a point. It also meant my prediction of a 1-1 scoreline came true, so a good day for yours truly and an even better one for Smuda and his players, who are now just one win from a first appearance in the quarter-finals.
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