: Russia will be looking to its defence to put on an improved display when it takes on the Czech Republic in its opening Group A match here on Friday.
The Russians, coached by veteran Dutchman Dick Advocaat, are in a buoyant mood after a morale-boosting friendly victory last Friday.
Advocaat's side produced a vibrant attacking display to thump an out-of-sorts Italy 3-0 in Zurich, leading expectations to flower in some quarters.
Russia was one of the revelations of Euro 2008 with its delightful, attacking, flair-filled play under the guidance of another Dutchman, Guus Hiddink, destroying Holland in the quarterfinals before losing in the semifinals to Spain.
And Russian captain Andrei Arshavin believes the Italy win proved Russia is ready to take on and beat the best.
“The result of the friendly match with Italy boosted our fans' hopes ahead of the championship's start and all of our players also,” he said. “For a long time we have believed our team is capable of playing at this level.”
However, Advocaat is keen to quell the rising tide of optimism.
Although his side produced some fine attacking play in Zurich, with Zenit St. Petersburg strike-pairing of Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Roman Shirokov particularly impressive, ably supported by Arshavin — on loan at Zenit from Arsenal — Advocaat is more concerned about his defence.
In truth, it allowed Italy several clear chances, but some poor finishing was the main reason the Azzurri failed to score.
“One friendly victory, even if it was a thrashing of Italy, doesn't make us the Euro favourites,” said 64-year-old Advocaat, who is stepping down after the finals to take over Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
“We should remain realists; it was just a warm-up game. It's good that we scored three goals against Italy to boost our team's self-confidence, but we still need to improve our defence to avoid serious problems in the group matches with the Czechs, Poland and Greece.”
One man that Advocaat will be hoping to repeat his form of 2008 is striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, and the Lokomotiv Moscow hitman says that a win against the Czechs is crucial.
“We should win on Friday at any cost,” said Pavlyuchenko, who was one of its stars in 2008 scoring three goals.
While the Russians are trying to improve their defence, the Czechs have had quite a different problem in their preparations.
Before arriving at their base here in Wroclaw, traces of the potentially-deadly Legionella bacteria were found in their hotel, which needed to call in a disinfection company before Polish health inspectors gave it the all-clear.
Their other major concern is the fitness of Galatasaray forward Milan Baros, who limped out of training on Tuesday with a thigh problem.
The Czech's chief team doctor Petr Krejci said if he doesn't take part in full training on Thursday, then he won't be able to play against Russia, but added, “It's not as if the tournament's over for Milan.”
Captain Tomas Rosicky had been a doubt, but resumed full training on Monday following a calf problem.
Arsenal's Rosicky, alongside fellow veterans Petr Cech of Chelsea and Baros, should form the backbone of the Czech challenge.
However, its friendly form coming into the tournament has been patchy; having beaten Israel 2-1, it went down by the same scoreline at home to a youthful Hungary side.
Russia: Igor Akinfeyev, Alexander Anyukov, Alexei Berezutsky, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov, Roman Shirokov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Alan Dzagoyev, Andrei Arshavin, Alexander Kerzhakov.
Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Michal Kadlec, Frantisek Rajtoral, Jaroslav Plasil, Petr Jiracek, Jan Rezek, Tomas Rosicky, Milan Baros, Vaclav Pilar. — AFP
Keywords: Euro 2012