By Trevor Haylett in the Millennium Stadium
Russia won through to the UEFA EURO 2004™ final tournament after a determined effort in Cardiff.
Without a major qualification since 1958, Wales had drawn 0-0 in Moscow, but they needed to score twice the moment Vadim Evseev nodded Russia ahead, and were never able to put Viatcheslav Malafeev - making his debut in goal for the visitors - under sustained pressure.
Wales were the best-supported nation in the entire qualifying campaign and another 73,000-capacity crowd gave their team a raucous send-off towards what was certain to be a nervous 90 minutes. The Welsh were unchanged, Ryan Giggs proving his fitness after a shin injury.
Russia made four changes with Sergei Ovchinnikov and Aleksandr Mostovoi missing out after collecting bookings in the first game. Dmitri Loskov and Dmitri Sytchev dropped to the bench with Malafeev named as Ovchinnikov's replacement between the posts and Yegor Titov, Marat Izmailov and Rolan Gusev stepping up.
The Welsh desire was total and Andy Johnson's early challenge on Viktor Onopko set the tone. Hughes had again opted to play with John Hartson as a lone striker, his favoured strategy throughout the qualifiers, and it was to the Celtic FC marksman that the night's first real opportunity fell. Johnson won a header, Andy Melville helped it on and Hartson, in space behind the defence, snatched at the shot and sent it wide of the far post.
Russia were confident in possession and did not appear to have the mind-set of underdogs after the disappointment of the first leg. Aleksei Smertin cleverly evaded Johnson's attentions and produced a decent attempt which was deflected for a corner. The goal was not long in coming though as Gusev's free-kick was met by Evseev and a firm header was enough to beat Paul Jones.
The visitors might have added to that score, Gusev driving fractionally wide of the Welsh goal. Evseev then set off on an inspirational run but his good work was rather spoiled by Dmitri Bulykin's awkward control. Another Gusev free-kick this time found Onopko sending his header too high.
Wales were flat at this stage but roused themselves to end the half with a much improved tempo and Giggs almost equalised when he found the ball at his feet well inside the penalty area only to hit the foot of the upright.
The home team needed to score early in the second half. Their supporters were willing them to exert pressure on the untried Malafeev because apart from the openings for Hartson and Giggs he had been well protected by his defenders. He had a scare though when Giggs met a Jason Koumas cross but his hooked effort flew just too high.
Wales introduced Robert Earnshaw in place of Johnson just before the hour. They were in urgent need of his pace because at this juncture it appeared that only the mercurial skills of Giggs might force a breakthrough.
Earnshaw was lively down the right and immediately robbed Dmitri Sennikov to earn room for the centre. It floated just beyond all the Welsh heads rushing to get into the penalty area, and in the last 15 minutes their goalkeeper Jones was forced to save twice from Bulykin before Russia could celebrate their progress to Portugal.
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