The Slovak national football team were able take advantage of Miroslav Stoch’s 27th minute opener and collect all 3 points tonight in the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow, as they faced off against one of their strongest opponents in UEFA’s 2012 Group B qualifiers.
The Russian national team, captained by Arsenal forward Andrey Arsharvin, started the match off fully aware of the need to collect points off one of their rivals for a top two spot in the group. The Russian attack was quick, well organized, and in the opening stages of the match looked more than up to the task of threatening Slovakia’s goal.
It was the away team, however, who struck first blood thanks to a goalkeeping error from Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev. A misplaced pass to right back Vladimir Anyukov saw Stoch burst through at pace to intercept, before taking a shot from the left edge of the penalty area to fire the ball into the top right corner of the home side’s net.
The goal conceded seemed only to heighten the urgency with which Russia pressed on the Slovak defense, forcing Jan Mucha to pull off numerous impressive saves before half-time.
From the start of the 2nd half it was the Slovaks who controlled the game. Filip Holosko charged at the left side of the Russian defense, while Stoch caused problems on the opposite flank. The optimism that Slovakia started with soon petered out, though, as Russia finally responded with a spell of dangerous possession on the edge of the away side’s penalty box, which culminated also in a goal being ruled offside.
The pressure continued and in the 55th minute the Russians squandered a wonderful chance, following an Anyukov interception in midfield, he rushed to the right wing where his cross was wasted in the box by poor handling. The ball bounced toward Zhirkov who attempted an acrobatic shot which lacked the power and accuracy to get past the block of defenders stationed in the box. The ball ultimately fell to Arsharvin, who narrowly shot wide.
Though the Russians continued to press in attack, they ultimately lacked the ability to break down the determined Slovak defense, with Liverpool center half Martin Skrtel displaying outstanding form.
For a large part of the 2nd half Slovakia was unable to give a meaningful response; their attacks regularly breaking down through erroneous passing and poor use of possession.
Russia made several substitutions in an attempt to level the score, bringing on attacking fullback Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, midfielder Vladimir Bystrov, and striker Roman Pavlyuchenko. Despite several more threatening attacks, that Slovak defense was too well-organized and motivated to allow the Russians to equalize.
As the referee blew the final whistle Slovakia sealed another 3 points towards qualification, and kept a clean sheet in the process.
Author’s Man of the Match: Jan Mucha.