RUSSIA were indebted to Pavel Pogrebniak as the striker’s double got their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign off to a 2-0 winning start in Andorra last night.
A strong start saw the eastern Europeans take a 14th-minute lead with a well-worked goal.
However, Andorra – who face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium next Tuesday – succeeded in roughing their opponents up at the Estadi Comunal and it was not until the 64th minute that Russia secured some breathing space through Pogrebniak’s penalty.
Russia started brightly, with Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin in the thick of the action. In the sixth minute he tested Andorra keeper Jose Antonio Gomes who saved comfortably.
The visitors were getting the ball forward directly when possible and the opening goal came promptly in the 14th minute. Konstantin Zyryanov won the ball well and fed Arshavin, the playmaker cleverly finding Pogrebniak.
The striker beat his man before firing hard and low from the left of the penalty area to break the deadlock.
Andorra tried to claw their way back into the game while breaking up Russia’s advances at any cost – and received three yellow cards midway through the half for cynical fouls in the middle of the pitch.
Pogrebniak then skilfully evaded two defenders and crossed for Arshavin but again Gomes made the save.
Shortly before half-time Sergio Moreno had a chance for Andorra, from inside the area, but failed to connect cleanly with his shot and Igor Akinfeev collected easily.
The game petered out until around the hour mark, Russia dominating but failing to really threaten.
Alan Dzagoev, on as a substitute, was found by Arshavin but was denied by illegally Gomes inside the box.
Pogrebniak converted the penalty calmly to ease Russia’s nerves. Pogrebniak missed a chance for his hat-trick before Arshavin, Igor Semshov and Dzagoev all went close while Andorra were limited to long-range punts.
In the other match in Group B last night, Filip Holosko’s stoppage-time strike ensured Slovakia a winning start at the expense of 10-man FYR Macedonia last night.
Vladimir Weiss’ side had the better of the chances but could not make the breakthrough until the 91st minute.
By that time they had a man advantage after Vance Sikov had seen red for two bookable offences at Bratislava’s Stadion Pasienky.
The first half was a dour affair with chances few and far between.
Russia will play Slovakia next Tuesday while they will face the Republic of Ireland in Zilina next month.
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