Russia made a winning start to the 2010 World Championship in Germany with a 3-1 victory over Slovakia, although the result stayed in doubt until Viktor Kozlov settled matters with an empty net goal in the very last minute.

Only two questions occupied the journalists on the morning of the game: the choice of goaltender and whether Pavel Datsyuk will take part in this tournament. Vyacheslav Bykov addressed the Datsyuk question straight after the game:
“Not a single player has refused to play for the national side, including Pavel… At the moment we are sorting things out regarding flight tickets, visas, and volcanoes.”

“So in that case you will bring in another attacker from those who have been training with the team from the start. Who will it be?”
“Let’s not make any rash decisions, there’s no hurry, we have time.”

As for the first question, there was no secrecy. Vasily Koshechkin (pictured) was told to get ready and he immediately got down to business. There was one worrying moment halfway through the warm-up when Artem Anisimov needed the doctor after the puck struck his leg, but he was given the all clear.

Throughout the first period it seemed Russia would cruise to victory with no problems of any kind. They scored just once, with Viktor Kozlov setting up Maxim Afinogenov, but it seemed to all that a second goal was just a matter of time. And when it duly arrived, courtesy of Alexander Ovechkin, all breathed a sigh of relief – players included.

“We played well for the first two periods,” said Ovechkin after the game. “But then we relaxed a little. We gave away a goal, and so we gave ourselves a nervous final period. It is great that we came through it, but we should have scored the third a bit sooner.”

Vyacheslav Bykov also spoke about the tense finish:
“The Slovaks posed the greatest threat towards the end of the third, but it would be wrong to say they had any real superiority over us. They stayed out of our zone, enjoyed some possession out on the flanks, and without firing in any shots. That’s not superiority.”

He then went on to admit that the way the game unfolded suggests there are lessons to be learned for all his players:
“I’m not ruling out making changes to some combinations. That’s possible, but by no means certain.”

Viktor Kozlov took the positive view:
“It’s good that the Slovaks came back at us. Now we can analyze our mistakes and work on how to avoid repeating them. Also, don’t forget that the first match is always the toughest.”

The head coach was nevertheless unfazed by his team’s difficult start.
“With the national team it’s important to start with a win,” said Bykov. “So for us this was mission accomplished. Things will be a bit easier from now on.”

Maxim Sushinsky made a surprisingly frank admission:
“We were a little tense before the game. Firstly, we were up against serious opponents. Secondly, it is a long time since we played before a packed house. But everything turned out great.”

Koshechkin, who produced a superb display, did not emerge to talk to the press but none of the journalists had a bad word to say about the goaltender. Indeed, he was far and away the best player in the match, despite the organizers giving this accolade to Ovechkin.

“Not our decision” said Bykov with a smile.

Alexei Shevchenko, Cologne

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