Russia all but through to finals

HE may have called a halt to the celebrations at the end of last night’s win in Zilina — but Russia coach Dick Advocaat must know Euro 2012 qualification is all but certain now.

The Russians sent a clear message to the Irish team in far away Andorra as they avenged their Moscow defeat at the hands of Slovakia 13 months ago.

Alan Dzagoev’s 71st minute goal was enough to win this match and all but send the Russians through the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine.

It was also no more than the visitors deserved on a night when they enjoyed the majority of the possession and most of the scoring chances.

Only the Everton reserve goalkeeper Jan Mucha stood between the Russians and a more comprehensive win. But the single goal was still enough to all but assure they qualify automatically for next summer’s finals.

“We are nearly there but we are not there yet,” declared Advocaat as Russia prepared to fly back to Moscow last night ahead of Tuesday’s game with the minnows from Andorra.

“I told the players not to celebrate at the end of the game because the job is not yet finished. We respected Slovakia tonight and we will respect Andorra in the final game.

“We are almost there and I am happy with that but we cannot afford to relax now. We deserved this win and I believe we deserve to be so close to qualification.”

Slovakia did little on the night to test a nervy Malafeev in the Russian goal and that will be one of many disappointments for their manager Vladimir Weiss.

Just two summers ago he was a national hero after World Cup heroics in South Africa. At last night’s press conference he looked a beaten man.

“The better team won,” admitted Weiss afterwards before he refused to confirm or deny that this is his last game in charge.

“Russia have the better individuals. We were not better in any section of the game.”

Weiss did have a gripe with Swedish referee Eriksson however as his player Karhan was off the field for treatment and trying to get back on when the goal was scored.

“The most important moment in the goal was that the referee didn’t allow our player to re-enter the field, he was out of the field and because of that there was a gap for the Russians to move into,” added Weiss.

His gripe is what they call small potatoes on a night when revenge for Moscow was sweet for the visitors.

Russia did have the better of the chances but their only goal didn’t arrive until the 71st minute when CSKA midfielder Dzagoev let fly from 25 metres to finally beat Mucha.

The impressive Pavlyuchenko also had the ball in the net again two minutes later but this time the offside flag saved the home side.

The hard working Stoch enjoyed the best of the few opportunities that came Slovakia’s way. His best effort produced a save worthy of the name from Malafeev just before the break while Holosko also tested the Russian early in the second-half.

That was as good as it got for the home side however on a night when it was win or bust.

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel began the day celebrating the arrival of his new son, Matthew, back on Merseyside. At least he has something to shout about – and the perfect excuse to miss Tuesday’s now meaningless trip to Macedonia.

SLOVAKIA: Mucha; Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan; Kucka (Guede 72 mins), Karhan (Sebo 85 mins), Stoch, Hamsik; Jendrisek, Holosko (Weiss 72 mins).

RUSSIA: Malafeev; Anyukov, V. Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Zhirkov (A Berezutsky 89 mins); Denisov, Ziryanov, Zyrjanov; Dzagoev (Samedov 88 mins), Arshavin, Pavyluchenko (Bogrebnak 86 mins).

Referee: Jonas Eriksson, Sweden.

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