There were complains about Euro 2012's Group A. Not only that the "Group of Life" would allow two of the tournament's lesser teams to advance to the knockout stages while more revered nations battle through matches you might not expect to see until the semifinals in other groups. But that being Group "A" meant that after months of build-up, the third biggest sporting event in the world's excitement-quenching opening matchday would be comprised of Poland v Greece and Russia v Czech Republic. Hooray?
Despite those reasonable fears, it actually turned out to be quite nice. Poland and Greece played out a bafflingly unpredictable 1-1 draw and Russia reminded everyone that they pretty much solely exist for this competition (at least, in years that they don't enjoy World Cup hosting duties and the qualification exemption it carries with it). Players who will likely be overshadowed by the superstars waiting to play in the days to follow also got a bit of the spotlight and the one who arguably made the most of it was Russia's 21-year-old attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev.
Dzagoev scored a brace in Russia's 4-1 win over the Czechs, making him the second youngest player to do so in the Euros behind 18-year-old Wayne Rooney (according to Opta Sports). Rumored to be the subject of interest from Manchester United and others, Dzagoev is hardly an unknown and he's actually been around for a while. He became the youngest outfield player to debut for Russia at the age of 18 and, still the team's youngest player, he led the squad with four goals in eight Euro 2012 qualifying matches. Frank Lampard is one of his idols.
In the midst of his success with the national team, his development at the club level with CSKA Moscow has stalled a bit. Since scoring 13 goals (and earning 22 yellow cards) in 29 matches in 2008, winning him the Russian Premier League's Best Young Player award, his tally has declined every season down to six goals (and just two yellow cards) in 2011/12 over 48 matches. Yet, he has sharpened his excellent passing ability.
Recovering from a toe injury that kept him out for more than a month, Dzagoev could be setting himself up for the big-club interest that comes along with being football's next great Alan if he keeps up this form and helps Russia into the knockout rounds. So in the interest of knowing him a little better, here are a few nuggets of information I just made up about him:
-He has consistently beaten Andrei Arshavin at hide and seek since he was 16 years old.
-His last name means "dragon fondler."
-He has an older brother who plays in the Russian second division and isn't jealous of him at all.
-He once traded a bike wheel for a Dell computer.
-Has never had a sore throat.