Finland 0 Russia 3
Alexsandr Kerzhakov returned from the international wilderness to fire Russia to a comprehensive Group Four victory in tonight’s World Cup qualifier.
The Dynamo Moscow striker had been out of the national team picture for over a year until his recent recall and he grasped his opportunity with goals either side of half-time against a tepid Finland outfit before Konstantin Zyryanov added a third 20 minutes from time.
Russia began positively and had an early chance 10 minutes in when Toni Kallio halted Vladimir Bystrov’s run down the right illegally. Andrey Arshavin took the resulting free-kick only for Kerzhakov to head over.
With the half-hour mark approaching Arshavin found Zyryanov inside the area and he managed to impressively round Finland keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, cutting the ball back only for Kerzhakov to blast over horribly.
Two minutes later Guus Hiddink’s side made the breakthrough, however. Defender Sergei Ignashevich hit a low, long ball forward which Arshavin diverted towards Kerzhakov.
The former Sevilla striker raced clear of the central defenders to round Jaaskelainen and roll the ball home with ease to celebrate his return to the international fold.
Finland had a rare opportunity in the 39th minute when veteran forward Jari Litmanen flicked the ball onto Jonatan Johansson but the former Charlton striker’s volley was straight at goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who parried the ball away.
Russia were denied a penalty in added time when Arshavin’s shot appeared to hit Hannu Tihinen’s arm but referee Konrad Plautz refused the visitors’ appeals.
The second half began in similar fashion and Russia got their deserved second after 53 minutes with Kerzhakov again the scorer.
Vladimir Bystrov received the ball from Igor Semshov before beating Sami Hyypia and darting into the area. His powerful shot was saved by Jaaskelainen but only into Kerzhakov’s path as the striker stabbed home before wheeling away in delight.
The win was rubber-stamped with 19 minutes left as Zyryanov broke down the left before cutting inside, beating Hyypia and rifling home impressively from eight yards.
Finland had a chance when Roman Eremenko tried his luck with a powerful low shot which was fumbled into Mikael Forssell’s path, only for the striker to see his shot blocked.
Hyypia’s torrid evening continued in the last 10 minutes when his misjudgment allowed Roman Pavlyuchenko a chance but the substitute scuffed wide.