KAZAN, Russia, September 6 (R-Sport) – Up-and-coming striker Alexander Kokorin scored twice as Russia ended its losing run with a 4-1 home win over whipping boys Luxembourg on Friday to strengthen their World Cup qualifying hopes.
The victory over a side ranked 124 places lower in the world puts Fabio Capello's men back on top of Group F, but that may only be brief as second-placed Portugal can retake the top spot with a win over Northern Ireland later Friday.
Russia came into the game off the back of defeats in Lisbon and Belfast, but showed no hesitation as Kokorin, 22, scored the fastest goal in the country’s history with a neat lob over the Luxembourg goalkeeper just 21 seconds into the match.
"A goal in the first minute is a very positive fact," Capello said. "Luxembourg is a very organized and physically very strong team. They're professionals in every area of the pitch, but our players were ready for the game today."
Kokorin scored his second on 36 minutes, heading in a Dmitry Kombarov free-kick for his third goal in 14 appearances for Russia.
The host team made sure of the three points when Alexander Kerzhakov ended his 11-month wait for an international goal with a glancing header at a 60th-minute corner.
There was an awkward end to the match for the hosts when Luxembourg's Aurelien Joachim poked the ball into the Russian net on 90 minutes after he and Yannick Bastos outplayed the defense despite slipping and sliding on the wet pitch. Alexander Samedov knocked in Russia's fourth goal in stoppage time, scoring off a low cross from Alexander Ryazantsev, who had stormed down the right flank.
"Possibly the only moment when we relaxed was the moment of the goal at the end of the match," Capello said.
Luxembourg's coach Luc Holtz said: "I'm proud of my team. My players did good work today. I think that for such a small country as Luxembourg, it's a worthy result."
As usual in such an unbalanced match, there were attempts to score spectacular goals, none more so than Kerzhakov’s blocked backheel volley just after the break. Earlier, Kokorin had tried for his hat-trick with a long-range piledriver from a tight angle.
Luxembourg posed little threat for much of the match, although Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was forced to react and stop a 20-yard effort from Joachim from 45 minutes.
The start of the game was delayed by an hour after heavy rain in Kazan, where Russia was playing for the first time. The pitch was waterlogged, but Capello said the soaked surface had little impact on the game.
Russia is next in action at home to Israel in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, while Luxembourg, sixth and last in the group, hosts Northern Ireland the same day.
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