|Capello records first win with Russia|
08 September 2012
Moscow: Fabio Capello oversaw his first win since taking over as Russia coach as Northern Ireland were beaten 2-0 in Moscow in their 2014 World Cup qualifying Group F opener on Friday.
Midfield duo Viktor Faizulin and Roman Shirokov, both of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg, got the goals for the hosts at the Lokomotiv Stadium, with the latter netting from the penalty spot.
It was not the most convincing of starts for the Italian, and enthusiasm in Moscow for the beginning of the Capello era appeared rather thin on the ground judging by the vast swathes of empty seats inside the near-30,000 capacity stadium.
However, the coach was pleased to take three points against opponents who played with little attacking intent.
“It’s always tough to play against opponents who concentrate all of their energy on defending,” Capello said.
“Of course we can play better but nevertheless I was pleased with that I saw on the pitch tonight.”
Capello’s starting line-up included six of the men who took to the field in Russia’s ill-fated final group game of Euro 2012 against Greece, and one of those men, Alexander Kerzhakov, had their first chance.
However, the striker’s shot from just outside the area was saved by Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll.
Defender Gareth McAuley responded at the other end with a header from a corner which went narrowly wide as the midway point in the first half approached.
But Russia were in control and got their reward half an hour in when Kerzhakov cut the ball back for Faizulin to score with a neat finish past an exposed Carroll.
Carroll redeemed himself by saving from Shirokov shortly after, while Kerzhakov’s header from the rebound missed the target.
After the break, Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side pushed forward in search of the equaliser but they failed to seriously test goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and eventually conceded a second inside the final 15 minutes.
Kerzhakov had sounded a warning shot with a free-kick that crashed off the woodwork, before Shirokov converted a penalty after Craig Cathcart fouled substitute Alexander Kokorin inside the area.
O’Neill was upset with the final result of the match, and insisted that the penalty should not have been given.
“We’re all very upset with this defeat,” he said.
“We had chances for a positive result even when we were trailing 1-0. Unfortunately that questionable penalty has killed the game for us. Russia are a very strong team but we are upset.”
Russia, who have not reached a World Cup finals since 2002, now travel to Israel on Tuesday, while Northern Ireland will expect to collect their first points at home to Luxembourg.
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