Continuity does not always breed success. For the first time in a UEFA European Championship, Russia fielded the same starting XI in consecutive matches, but how different the two games were.
Last night Dick Advocaat's side failed to find the same fluency that helped them ease to a 4-1 victory against the Czech Republic four days earlier, yet that was down in no small part to opponents Poland. Striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov explained: "Everything was more difficult than the match against the Czech Republic, but we still had our chances to score a second goal. We were lacking something in the final few metres."
Before UEFA EURO 2012, Advocaat had identified Poland as Russia's toughest obstacle. Roared on by a partisan crowd, the co-hosts undoubtedly took inspiration. Though they were on the back foot for considerable parts of the game, their passion never wilted. With Jakub Błaszczykowski pulling the strings in midfield and Robert Lewandowski a constant menace up front, Poland always looked like they could get at least the draw their coach Franciszek Smuda craved.
If the home team were not pretty to watch at times, they were effective both in attack and in defence. Most importantly, they managed to contain Roman Shirokov's surges from midfield and kept a lid on the three-pronged offence that had caused so much damage to the Czechs.
Russia's approach play was very easy on the eye, with Andrey Arshavin again impressive. However, with Poland happy to defend in numbers, Advocaat's side found it difficult to find the killer pass and final touch that would have been the difference between a draw and gaining all three points. Russia will have to improve if they have aspirations of making the competition's latter stages.
Although Russia's players were deflated after the final whistle, feeling they had dropped two points, they are still in a very good position. They remain top of Group A and a draw against Greece on Saturday will see them through to the knockout phase.
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