Ireland survived a fierce Russian onslaught in Moscow on Tuesday to salvage a point in their Euro 2012 qualifier.
Russia coach Dick Advocaat said he was unhappywith the result but proud of the performance.
“Without being chauvanistic, I think Russia played an excellent game, controlled the whole game, and created seven or eight 100 percent chances,” Advocaat said at a press conference after the game, adding: “I cannot give any negatives about the team except not scoring.”
The visitors produced nothing by way of attacking football themselves, resorting to aimless long balls that front two Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle could not hold up.
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni admitted his team were “clearly inferior” on the night, calling the result “a golden point.”
“I think it is not possible not to recognize that we aere lucky for these 90 minutes. Physically they [Russia] were superior to us…Some of us are missing thawt rhythm that you get by playing regularly,” Trapattoni said.
Advocaat scorned his Russian players by saying: “If you create so many chances against a defensive Ireland, you can only blame the players…Tonight, God was not on our side.”
“I think St. Patrick was watching over us,” Trapattoni retorted.
The result leaves Russia at the top of Group B with 17 points after seven games, and Ireland in second with 15 points. Third-placed Slovakia could join Russia at the top if they beat Armenia at home on Wednesday. Two games remain.
“With this result, we can look at the future. We have really overcome a big obstacle tonight. We have two matches left and have to do everything to qualify,” Trapattoni said.
As for qualification chances, Advocaat said “everything is in our hands.” Russia goes to Slovakia for a crucial qualifier on October 7.
Russia, directed by a visionary Andrei Arshavin, attacked in seemingly endless waves and spurned countless chances through Igor Semshov and Konstantin Ziryanov. Luck aside, Ireland also have Shay Given to thank for five or six top draw saves that kept his team in the match.
Arshavin showed form reminiscent of his Euro 2008 displays, providing several through passes that produced one-on-one opportunities for the hosts. Ireland, static in midfield, were unable to cope with the Russian captain’s linkup play with Yuri Zhirkov down the left and Aleksander Anyukov down the right.
The in-form Igor Semshov missed Russia’s best chance in the first half. He skipped past a defender and stroked the ball past Shay Given from just eight yards out, but not past Richard Dunne, who blocked on the line for Damien Duff to clear. Zhirkov had just turned Duff and Dunne inside the area to set Semshov up.
At the death, excellent positioning from Given made sure he was in the right place to block Konstantin Ziryanov’s point-blank header two minutes from time.
In between, it was one-way traffic, with Russia creating chance after chance.
Given tipped an early Arshavin shot around the post before the Arsenal midfielder played in Semshov to fire a promising low cross past Given and out the other side.
Given then stretched to his right to parry away an athletic volley from Semshov after a pinpoint pass from Kerzhakov on the right, a move Arshavin had started.
Alexei Berezutvsky fired a speculative shot from 20 yards that Given fumbled behind for a corner.
Damien Duff cleared a Sergei Ignashevich header off the line on half time.
The pressure continued in the second half, with Ireland’s supposedly attacking midfielders Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady forced to spend most of the match defending.
Not long after the restart, Arshavin played in Roman Shirokov, but Dunne slid in to deny the Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder a shot.
Semshov then mysteriously opted to pass to his right clean through on goal on another through ball from Arshavin. His pass went nowhere and the Irish cleared.
Whenever Ireland got anywhere near the Russian area, crosses sailed wide and pot shots went over. Substitute Simon Cox blasted over from 25 yards, and Keane headed over from a free kick.
Substitute Diniyar Bilyaletdinov could have given the hosts the points on 83 minutes, but smashed a shot over the bar of the corner of the penalty box on a pass from Konstantin Ziryanov.
Semshov had yet another shot charged down five minutes from time as Irish defending got desperate, and Bilyaletdinov headed wide from an Arshavin free kick.
Russia: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Aleksandr Anyukov, Vasily Berezutsky,Sergei Ignashevich, Aleskei Berezutsky, Yuri Zhirkov (Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, 76), Igor Semshov, Roman Shirokov, Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 54), Andrei Arshavin, Konstantin Ziryanov.
Ireland: Shay Given, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Ward, Darren O’Dea, Richard Dunne, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady, Keith Andrews, Kevin Doyle (Simon Cox, 59), Robbie Keane, Damien Duff (Stephen Hunt, 67).