MOSCOW, September 7 (RIA Novosti)
Russia beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their World Cup qualifier in Moscow on Friday with a workmanlike showing rather than the Russian revolution Fabio Capello might have hoped for in his first competitive game in charge.
Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland team were the clear underdogs, but their failure to create a single clear-cut chance in O'Neill's first competitive game may worry the new coach, and gave little impression that the team could mount a surprise bid for a place at Brazil 2014.
"We could have scored more goals," Capello said. "I'm very satisfied with what we demonstrated today."
Capello said the cut-up pitch and Ireland's defensive tactics had caused Russia problems.
"It was difficult because the pitch was not perfect," he said. "It was difficult to find space because there were so many players in front of the goal."
His opposite number O'Neill said Northern Ireland had not played to their best.
"We're disappointed to lose the game," O'Neill said.
"We were disappointing in our possession at times. We had to work so hard off the ball."
Russia took the lead on the half-hour after a neat passing move, Alan Dzagoev feeding Alexander Kerzhakov in the box, who laid the ball off for midfielder Viktor Faizulin to score his first international goal with a left-footed shot into the top-left corner.
Roman Shirokov scored the hosts' second from the penalty spot on 78 minutes with a shot into the bottom-right corner of the goal after Craig Cathcart barged into Alexander Kokorin in the box.
"At 1-0, we were well in the game. The very soft penalty killed the game for us," O'Neill said.
"My initial thought was that [the referee] had booked the striker for his theatrics," adding that a "very poor" pitch could have caused Kokorin to trip.
Good-quality chances were few and far between in the first half, and Russia's best opportunity for another goal was wasted when Bystrov found Kerzhakov in acres of space in the box on 14 minutes, only for the Zenit St. Petersburg man to skew his shot wide and continue his scoring drought in competitive games.
Earlier, Kerzhakov had shot straight at goalkeeper Roy Carroll from a promising position, while he looped a header over the bar on the rebound when Roman Shirokov effort was well blocked by Carroll's foot on 34 minutes.
For Northern Ireland, the first half saw plenty of Route One tactics, with lone frontman Kyle Lafferty's attempts to hold up the ball bearing little fruit. The visitors' best hope came when Gareth McAuley headed a Chris Brunt corner wide as the Russia defense were slow to react.
Soon after the break, Vasily Berezutsky headed wide at a Russia corner.
Russia began to sit back and concentrate on keeping possession, while right-back Alexander Anyukov won himself a yellow card for time-wasting as early as the 64th minute.
Soon before Russia's second, Kerzhakov smacked the ball against the post from a free-kick in a good position.
The visitors were not beaten when Shirokov scored, however, and with 10 minutes to go, defender McAuley again proved to be Northern Ireland's greatest threat in an otherwise drab display, his header forcing a volleyed goalline clearance from Faizulin.
In the dying minutes, Bystrov shot wide and Chris Bird saw his effort blocked at a stoppage-time free-kick.
Capello has said he wants to attract more Russian fans to their national team's games, but the thin crowd was well down on the hordes who flocked to last week's Moscow derby at the same Lokomotiv stadium.
There was a minute's silence before the match in memory of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team killed in a plane crash a year before.
Russia: Akinfeev, Anyukov, Ignashevich, V. Berezutsky, Kombarov, Denisov, Shirokov, Dzagoev (Kokorin 58), Bystrov, Faizulin (Glushakov 85), Kerzhakov.
Northern Ireland: Carroll, McAuley, S. Evans, Hughes, Cathcart, Davis, Brunt, C. Evans (Shiels 84), Ward (Little 76), Lafferty.
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