Russia claimed their first UEFA EURO 2008™ Group E victory at the third attempt after goals from substitutes Pavel Pogrebnyak and Dmitri Sychev earned Guus Hiddink's side a 2-0 win against Estonia in St Petersburg.
Pogrebnyak volleyed in from close range 12 minutes from time before Sychev made the points safe with a clinical 20-metre strike in stoppage time. Yet it was a far from straightforward success for the hosts, who were forced to stifle spells of Estonia pressure in the first half and were left frustrated by a resolute defence.
Russia made the early running, with FC Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Andrei Arshavin threatening inside the Estonia area without the danger being converted into opportunities. Indeed, the clearest chance of the first half fell to Estonia on 15 minutes when Andres Oper broke clear only to send a weak chip into the arms of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Oper featured again in the 31st minute, shooting across the face of Akinfeev's goal.
Russia then began to assert themselves. Arshavin went close when his effort was deflected centimetres wide by Estonia defender Andrei Stepanov, before goalkeeper Mart Poom was tested for the first time by a shot from a tight angle by Aleksandr Kerzhakov which he parried. Kerzhakov subsequently made way for Pogrebnyak at half-time.
Hiddink's men came out for the second period full of attacking intent. Arshavin burst into the Estonia area and smashed the ball against the post after just 32 seconds. Five minutes later the Zenit man turned provider, slipping the ball behind the defence for Vladimir Bystrov to draw a save from Poom.
Captain Evgeni Aldonin was sacrificed for Sychev as Hiddink went in desperate search of a goal. The ploy worked when Yegor Titov flicked on for Pogrebnyak, who blasted past Poom from ten metres. Hiddink's opposite number, fellow Dutchman Jelle Goes, then made a triple substitution but Estonian hopes were further dented when defender Raio Piiroja was dismissed on 90 minutes following his second caution.
Sychev then sealed a deserved win for Russia a minute into stoppage time, picking his spot with a low drive. Estonia's third straight defeat leaves them five points behind the Russians, who travel to F.Y.R. Macedonia in November. These teams resume their rivalry in March, their first outing of 2007.