Despite dominating possession and creating plenty of scoring chances, Russia have had to settle for a 0-0 draw at home against Ireland in a crucial Euro 2012 qualifier.
Vyacheslav Malafeev once again appeared in goal for Russia replacing the team’s first-choice keeper, Igor Akinfeev, who is out for at least half a year with a knee injury.
And Roman Shirokov occupied the key position in the center of Russia’s midfield in place of his Zenit team-mate Igor Denisov, who was suspended.
Meanwhile, the visiting coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, included Aiden McGeady in his starting line-up.
The winger, who has just recovered from an injury of his own, was the only Ireland player familiar with the artificial pitch at Luzhniki, as it’s the home stadium of his team Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League.
The support of 60,000 fans sent the Group B leaders forward from the very beginning of the match, and the Republic of Ireland had to thank defender Richard Dunne for keeping out the Russian attack in the first half.
Yury Zhirkov dribbled through three defenders in the 33rd minute and laid the ball off to Igor Semshov, who shot past keeper Shay Given. But Dunne appeared from nowhere to somehow stop the ball just centimeters from the goal line.
Then, just before the half-time whistle, Damien Duff repeated the feat of his teammate, clearing the ball from an empty net after Aleksey Berezutsky’s header.
These were just a couple of the many chances Russia created in the opening 45 minutes. Andrey Arshavin was first to make his move, forcing Irish keeper Shay Given to save at the near post in the 8th minute.
Semshov’s other effort from inside the box lacked power and was saved by Given, before, in the 40th minute, Zhirkov nearly scored direct from a corner.
Dick Advocaat’s men continued to pile the pressure on their opponents after the restart, but just lacked the final pass.
Roman Pavlyuchenko came on in the 54thminute, and it was Pavlyuchenko who masterminded Russia’s last big chance of the game.
The striker found Konstantin Zyrianov with a cross, but Given somehow kept out his point-blank diving header in the last minute.
The game ended with a 0-0 scoreline, and even the Irish coach admitted that that the result wasn’t a fair one.
“It must be admitted that we were lucky,” said Giovanni Trapattoni. “We created almost nothing for the whole 90 minutes and physically the Russian national team also excelled.”
“But with this result we can safely look into the future. There are still two games remaining. We must prepare for them step by step, to score points and make it to the European Championship,” he added. which
The scoreless draw means Russia remain at the top of Group B in the Euro 2012 qualifiers on 17 points, with Ireland two points behind.
Slovakia, who shared second spot with the Irish before Tuesday’s action, entertain Armenia at home later on Tuesday evening and they will join Arshavin and company at the top if they win.
After Tuesday’s matches, there are just two games remaining in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, with Russia traveling to Slovakia on October 7, before hosting lowly Andorra on October 11.