Last night a previously impressive Russian side, who seemed to be an outside bet for the title, slump to a Greek side who were so completely rubbish against the Czech Republic its a wonder they weren’t forced to pack up their Feta and go home early.
Russians weren’t even particularly bad, they dominated possession and played with real attacking intent. Andrei Arshavin a particular highlight with his smart, incisive passing, clever runs and even tracking back to help in defence, which prior to the match seemed less likely than Andrei being named a contender for Russia’s tallest man.
Where Russia went wrong was that they fell into the classic Arsenal trap. A technically more proficient team, they were quite capable of retaining possession. Where they faltered was in focusing the massive majority of attacks through the middle, trying to thread delicate through balls through a compact and organised Greek defence who were more than aware of the threat. When this failed they generally resorted to a hopeful long shot, with several coming agonisingly close but few genuinely troubling the keeper.
This led me to wonder why so many teams are hellbent on a ‘plan A’ regardless of the in game success of said plan. Whenever Russia, rarely, tried to attack the Greek flanks they seemed to have some amount of success. Considerably more than when trying to smash their drunk Kossack pony through the walls of Troy. Given that the Greek defence was predominantly concentrated in the middle of the box, fizzing Antonio Valencia style low crosses across the Greek goalmouth would have been an excellent option. Which, even if unfruitful, would have drawn the Greek defence out to protect the flanks, relieving congestion in the box and improving the effectiveness of a more centralised attack. By insisting on trying to force their Arsenalesque attack to work they also had a tendency to lose the ball on the edge of the Greek box with the majority of their defence out of position, leading to a plethora of quality Greek chances and the solitary goal to dump Russia out of the tournament.
There is always a tendency for stronger teams to play their specific brand of football and eventually overpower the opposition, the most famous proponent of this approach being Arsene Wenger. But the ability to adapt mid game is an incredibly valuable asset in top flight football, and one which was seen Alex Ferguson dominate over Wenger in recent years.
It was frustrating to see Russia take an early exit, particularly since I had backed them with my wallet as well as my heart, but their failure to adapt would not have seen them snatch success from any of the elite. Better luck next time.