Igor Semshov struck late in the first half to give Russia a crucial 1-0 victory at home against Macedonia, guaranteeing Dick Advocaat’s side the outright lead in their Euro 2012 qualifiers group.
It was a tentative first half at Luzhniki Arena before striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov pulled back a cross for the glaringly unmarked Semshov.
The Dynamo Moscow captain made no fuss as he bamboozled the defense and goalkeeper to send the partisan home crowd into a rapture.
Macedonian captain Goran Pandev picked up a yellow card in the wake of that goal. And emotions also got the better of the striker in second-half stoppage time, as the referee booked him once again and consequently sent him off the pitch.
“I’m very pleased with the result,” Dick Advocaat, Russia’s boss, said after the game. “The match turned out to be a difficult one, especially in the first half. [It was] partly because everyone expected nothing but a win from us, so at some point the players got too nervous and couldn’t take the game under control. After the break, I introduced Roman Pavlyuchenko into the game, after which we began looking better on the attack. Macedonia created quite a few dangerous moments, and we, in turn, deserved two or three more goals.”
Advocaat’s Macedonian counterpart, John Toshak, put blame for the loss on the referees.
“It was a tough game, as we expected,” he said. “The key moment of the match was the penalty not awarded for the foul on Goran Pandev. It’s a pity, we got unlucky – the referee didn’t notice the foul.”
Russia regained sole leadership in Group B, with 16 points in the bag, as their main rivals Ireland and Slovakia played to a 0-0 draw in Dublin and are now two points behind.
Dick Advocaat’s men return to action on September 6 to face Ireland, also on their home turf at Luzhniki Stadium.