Russia took a big stride forward in their bid to qualify for UEFA EURO 2012 with a narrow victory against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The home side dominated for long periods, especially in the second half, with Andrey Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov working tirelessly up front. However, they had to rely on Igor Semshov's strike on 41 minutes to defeat a FYROM team under the tutelage of John Toshack for the first time.
Despite having had only three training sessions under Toshack, FYROM made a bright start as Russia failed to pose their opponents any early problems. Dick Advocaat had identified Goran Pandev as the visitors' danger man so it came as no surprise when he almost opened the scoring five minutes before half-time. The on-loan SSC Napoli forward rounded Vyacheslav Malafeev but the goalkeeper made an excellent recovery to stop his team from falling behind; how crucial it proved.
Sixty seconds later Russia forged ahead. The impressive Arshavin dribbled half the length of the pitch before laying the ball off to Kerzhakov, who in turn found Semshov in oceans of space on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder composed himself before scoring with a right-footed shot which went straight through goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov.
Russia were much improved after the break and could have doubled their lead on 64 minutes. Yuri Zhirkov pirouetted his way past two defenders brilliantly and his measured cross was met powerfully by substitute Dmitri Torbinski. However, Bogatinov redeemed himself for his earlier mistake with a fantastic save.
Ivan Trickovski spurned FYROM's best chance with time running out, firing over the crossbar from the edge of the area. Russia could have killed off the tie, with Torbinski missing another presentable opportunity with ten minutes to go.