Russia 4-2 Republic of Ireland
A new-look Russia saw off the Republic of Ireland with a spirited display in Moscow, in the first competitive international played at the sold-out Lokomotiv stadium.
Two goals in five first-half minutes from Andrei Kariaka and Vladimir Beschastnykh set the hosts on their way in this Group 10 qualifier. Gary Doherty pulled one back for the Irish in the 69th minute but, crucially, Russia immediately went up the other end and scored a minute later through the excellent Alexander Kerzhakov. Clinton Morrison reduced the arrears again but there was no way back when Phil Babb scored an own goal three minutes from time.
Russia coach Valeri Gazzaev, already without several key players prior to the game, lost stand-in captain Alexei Smertin just before kick-off. It meant that Sergei Semak took the armband but the home team had no problem with motivation.
Ireland, without former captain Roy Keane because the Manchester United FC midfield player refuses to play for manager Mick McCarthy, were a threat early on but were too often muscled out of the play in the centre of the pitch. In contrast, Russia, marshalled superbly by veteran defender Viktor Onopko, had a measured air to their attacks.
The opening goal came in the 20th minute. Onopko found Kariaka and the lively forward turned Irish defender Gary Breen inside out before slotting the ball under Given. Five minutes later, Dmitri Loskov played in Beschastnykh, who controlled the ball before planting a superb shot in the top left-hand corner.
Ireland refused to lie down though in front of 7,000 travelling fans, with Ian Harte and Kevin Kilbane looking lively along the left flank, while Robbie Keane worked tirelessly against an imposing defence. They had to wait until the 69th minute to score when Doherty, on for Jason McAteer, headed Harte's corner into the net.
Not finished yet
However, Russia went up the other end from the restart and, a substitute of their own, Kerzhakov met Kariaka's cross to head his side's third goal. Seemingly it was game over, but the Irish were not finished. Morrison, yet another replacement, latched on to Steve Finnan's pass in the 76th minute and poked the ball in from close range.
Freak own goal
Not to be outdone, the third Irish substitute got in on the scoring act – unfortunately at the wrong end. Introduced to give the visitors an aerial threat, Sunderland AFC defender Babb scored a freak own goal when Kerzhakov burst clear and fired a shot goalwards. Goalkeeper Shay Given managed to block but the ball rebounded off Babb and into the net.
'A new birth'
"I am very happy about this victory," said Russia coach Gazzaev. "We showed character, determination and skill today. I am grateful to the players for this result. Today is a new birth for our new national team, this is an extraordinary victory."
'We made bad mistakes'
"We lost, because we made numerous mistakes in defence, while the Russians have converted all their chances," said Irish manager Mick McCarthy. "Of course we have not lost our chances for qualifying - it is only the first game, and the whole camapaign is still ahead of us. At half-time, we had a serious conversation and the team played different football in the second half, but at the end of the day, we made bad mistakes."
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