Sleek Russia hampered by sloppy forwards
(Reuters) - Russia looked impressive for much of their thrilling 1-1 draw with co-hosts Poland but the Group A favourites were let down by careless forwards who lost possession or failed to find the target.
Captain Andrei Arshavin returned to his old inconsistent ways in Tuesday's clash. He set up Russia's opener for Alan Dzagoyev but tried to be too clever near the Polish area, lost the ball and watched as they broke away to equalise.
Striker Alexander Kerzhakov's failure to put the ball in the net is another problem for coach Dick Advocaat, who nevertheless said he was satisfied with a result that leaves Russia needing a point against Greece to guarantee a quarter-final spot.
Playmaker Arshavin, widely praised after the opening 4-1 win over the Czech Republic, flitted in and out of the second half against the Poles and his passing was well below his best.
A few minutes after Poland's stunning leveller from captain Jakub Blaszczykowski, Arshavin broke into the area from the left and had to quickly decide whether to try to curl the ball past the goalkeeper or find a better placed team mate.
Instead his poor execution achieved neither as the ball zipped across the area and out towards the far touchline. Yet Advocaat said he had no regrets about not taking him off.
"Arshavin was the sharpest with the ball, so I was not going to change him. Every time he got the ball something happened so I left him on the field," said the Dutch coach.
Advocaat may feel he has no choice but to stick with the 31-year-old, a man abundantly blessed with talent but who can be enormously frustrating as Arsenal fans know only too well.
He often disappears for large parts games but can also produce extraordinary performances like that in which he scored four goals in a 4-4 draw at Liverpool three years ago.
Arshavin's pace and inventiveness are one of the strong points of the Russia side, whose fleet-footed attackers often forced Poland onto the back foot.
At times the Russians swarmed impressively all over the Poles and looked to be half a metre faster than their opponents.
When Russia had the ball the Polish defensive line was forced to play fairly deep for fear of pushing up too far and then being caught on the counter-attack.
While Arshavin's place is secure, Advocaat must be having second thoughts about Kerzhakov, who has not scored in a competitive game for Russia since October 2010.
Against the Czechs he produced seven shots off target, setting an unwanted European Championship record, and had no better luck against the Poles.
Kerzhakov's supporters say he plays a crucial role in the Russian attack, constantly moving around in the box and dragging defenders out of position.
But a forward should also score goals and Advocaat might be tempted to give more playing time to Roman Pavlyuchenko when Russia take on the injury-hit Greeks in their final group game.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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