Russia started Euro 2012 in impressive style on Friday with a 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Wroclaw, while co-hosts Poland fought out a 1-1 draw against Greece in Warsaw.
AFP - Russia thrashed the Czech Republic 4-1 while co-hosts Poland drew 1-1 with Greece, as the first European championship in eastern Europe got under way Friday after a rocky build-up hit by racism concerns.
Russia's tournament got off to a flier in Wroclaw, western Poland, as Alan Dzagoev put them in front on 15 minutes, blasting in from the edge of the box after Aleksandr Kerzhakov saw a close-range header rebound off the post.
A neat finish from Roman Shirokov nine minutes later doubled the lead, despite the Czechs looking the livelier in the opening exchanges.
The Czechs pulled one back seven minutes after the restart when Vaclav Pilar beat the offside trap, sidestepped the goalkeeper and slid the ball home following a through ball from Jaroslav Plasil.
But Dzagoev made it 3-1 in netting a fine right-footed strike after being played in by substitute and former Tottenham star Roman Pavlyuchenko, who promptly smacked in a magnificent fourth for the 2008 semi-finalists with eight minutes remaining.
Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland earlier got their campaign off to a dream start, when Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski headed them in front in the 17th minute before a partisan 50,000 capacity crowd in the capital Warsaw.
Franciszek Smuda's men were given an advantage of an extra player, as Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second bookable offence shortly before half-time.
But the Poles could not make it count and Dimitris Salpingidis levelled just after the break.
Poland then saw their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sent off for bringing down Salpingidis in the box but this time Greece failed to seize the opportunity, as substitute Przemyslaw Tyton kept out Giorgos Karagounis' spot kick.
The scoreline dampened the mood for the 50,000 home fans and the tens of thousands more outside, with Warsaw a sea of Polish red and white for the arrival of the showpiece event behind the former Iron Curtain for the first time.
Holders and world champions Spain are favourites to retain the title in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on July 1, although perennial challengers Germany are out to avenge their final defeat from four years ago.
Russia's emphatic win put them top of Group A, with Dick Advocaat's men taking on the hosts in Warsaw and the Czechs playing Greece in Wroclaw, both on Tuesday.
The final countdown to the start of Euro 2012, though, was overshadowed by claims that fans racially abused the Netherlands team with monkey chants during a training session on Wednesday.
Dutch skipper Mark van Bommel said in an interview published in De Telegraaf newspaper that the Oranje were forced to train away from the 25,000 fans who had turned up to watch in Krakow, southern Poland.
"We all heard the monkey chants," he was quoted as saying. "We can't accept that. We reacted well and the situation was sorted.
"During the tournament, if any one of us is confronted with such a thing, we'll immediately go to the referee to ask him to intervene," added van Bommel, who faces Denmark with his team-mates in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday.
Van Bommel's comments come despite a senior UEFA official previously denying there had been any racist chants and an angry response to a BBC programme last month which claimed far-right gangs were rife in Polish and Ukrainian football.
Poland, Ukraine and UEFA president Michel Platini have all tried to play down fears of racist incidents, which prompted the families of two black England players to say they would not be travelling to watch the tournament.
His organisation said on Friday that it was now aware of racist incidents, although it had not received any formal complaint from the Dutch football federation.