Roman Pavlyuchenko only started because of a last-minute injury to Aleksandr Kerzhakov, but the Tottenham Hotspur FC forward made the most of his chance by hitting the hat-trick which helped Russia come from behind to beat Armenia and stay in the running for qualification from Group B.
Marcos Pizzelli gave the visitors a surprise lead after 25 minutes but Russia hit back within 60 seconds, Pavyluchenko volleying past Roman Berezovsky for his first of the match and the qualifying campaign. Just before the hour, Pavlyuchenko grabbed his second to put Dick Advocaat's side ahead before completing the scoring and sealing victory from the penalty spot.
Unexpectedly held to a goalless draw by Armenia in Yerevan last time out, Russia began the match on the front foot determined to prove their UEFA EURO 2012 credentials. The hosts were almost rewarded for their early dominance after 18 minutes but Aleksandr Anyukov failed to find the target from close range. However, against the run of play it was the visitors who broke the deadlock, Pizzelli latching on to Yura Movsisyan's pass before finishing coolly past Igor Akinfeev.
The lead did not last long though, as Pavlyuchenko – on his 40th international appearance – met Anyukov's cross with a superb effort that flew past Berezovsky. The 29-year-old then gave Russia the advantage after the break following some neat build-up play involving Konstantin Zyryanov, Andrey Arshavin and Igor Semshov. With 17 minutes remaining, Pavlyuchenko completed his hat-trick and wrapped up the points for Advocaat's men after Yuri Zhirkov was brought down in the area by Armenia captain Sargis Hovsepyan.
Russia's victory lifted them top of Group B for a few hours before wins by the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia left the three teams level once more at the section summit. Russia face a vital-looking home encounter with the Irish on 6 September but before that will host the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia four days earlier, when Armenia travel to Andorra.