Historically wasteful Kerzhakov the villain on night of heroes

Aleksandr Kerzhakov's most popular pose during the Russia - Czech Republic game (AFP Photo/Daniel Mihailescu)
Zenit St. Petersburg striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov set a new all-time European Championships record with an amazing seven off-target shots in Russia’s win over the Czech Republic. But his manager says he will still start the next game.

­Kerzhakov did not cost the team a victory, as Russia overwhelmed the Czechs 4-1 in their opening Group A match in Wroclaw. In fact, the number of missed opportunities was a testament to Russia’s dominance.

But the misses were glorious. Time and again one of Russia’s midfielders threaded a ball to his target, leaving him with nothing else to do but shoot towards the goal, only for the striker to find new ways to miss. There were mishits, slices and pulls – mostly right-footed, although at one point, the Zenit striker cannily beat his man and moved the ball onto his left only to unleash a sloppy curling shot that never threatened.

While Kerzhakov’s play made most pub footballers in the audience feel like they could lead the national team strike force, coach Dick Advocaat rushed to his striker’s defence.

“Kerzhakov is playing again in the next game,” said the Dutch coach “He played very well, but was really unlucky.”

Perhaps, Advocaat is trying to do more than raise his wayward striker’s morale. 30-year-old Kerzhakov was the second top scorer in the Russian Premier League in the past season, bagging 23 goals in 32 games, and earning a spot in the league’s team of the season. He also has 19 goals in 62 appearances for Russia and scored in two friendlies in the build-up to Euro 2012.

Even in the match itself, Kerzhakov made tireless runs, and demonstrated a telepathic understanding with on-fire Andrei Arshavin, with whom he has played for over a decade.

One man who will be feeling aggrieved is the other player competing for the lone striker spot – Roman Pavlyuchenko. In his cameo where he replaced the luckless Kerzhakov, the Lokomotiv Moscow and former Tottenham forward set up the goal that secured the result, and then produced a stunning strike to complete the rout.

Russia plays Poland in its next group game.

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