By Aidan Elder | Chief Sports Writer
Group A betting preview: Russia v Czech Republic Friday, 7.45pm (ITV1 and RTE2)
It’s going to be an orgy of stereotypes about technically strong Eastern Europeans as Russia and the Czech Republic go head to head. We can expect some good football and quite a lot of crap puns about Czechs bouncing and Russians being in a hurry.
Russia qualified convincingly, conceding just four goals in their 10 games. But they didn’t have the toughest of groups, so don’t go wetting yourself over that stat. Dick Advocaat has them playing some silky football and with a comparatively soft group, it says a lot that a quarter-final would only feel like a par score for the Russians.
The Czechs are good, but aren’t as good as they used to be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s still 2004. They limped to qualification for the Euros. They’re the only team to have lost three games in qualifying and still make it through. Yes, they were in the same group as Spain, but they also had Liechtenstein and Scotland, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Russia are the better team, but general opening game caginess and the Czech Republic’s defensive mind-set will be tough to break down. Plus Petr Cech finished the season like their was force-field around his goal. Russia haven’t drawn a European Championship game since facing the Czechs at Euro 96. That’s a run of eight games that it’s worth backing to come to an end at 9/4.
A Correct Score stab in the dark
If you’re subscribing to the draw theory, then that narrows down the options significantly. The Czech Republic are kind of goal-shy and Russia – with a lot of luck and Richard Dunne playing like Iron Man on amphetamines – can be kept out. A 0-0 draw is 11/2.
A goalscorer bet to look out for
If you do fancy a goal, there are some familiar names on the list. Andrei Arshavin (31, 71 caps/17 goals) burst onto the global stage with a couple of excellent performances for Russia at the last European Championship. Now he mainly just bursts out of his jersey.
He packed on a few pounds towards the end of his time at Arsenal, but he has the class to provide a moment of brilliance. In what could be a cagey opening game, 8/1 for him to be first goalscorer may not be the worst of ideas.
Something a bit random
Of all the players in both squads, Russian right-back Aleksandr Anyukov picked up the most yellow cards in qualifying. He’s 10/1 to be the first player booked in this match.
Robbie Fowler says
I know the Russians are unbeaten but my old mate Vladimir Smicer (current sports manager within the Czech coaching set up) is confident so I’m edging for the Czechs