Hosts Russia made a winning start to their Confederations Cup campaign with a routine 2-0 victory over New Zealand at the Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg.
In head coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s first competitive match, the hosts were confident and proved worthy winners of this opening Group A game.
Russia dominated the first-half: Dmitri Polov and Georgi Dzhikiya had efforts hacked off the line. However, the deadlock wasn’t broken until the 31st minute when Denis Glushakov finished off a fine team move, but New Zealand defender Michael Boxall made the final touch meaning it’ll be registered as an own goal.
New Zealand had goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic to thank for keeping his side in the game, at least until the 69th minute when top goalscorer of the Russian domestic league Fedor Smolov tapped the ball in from close range.
The hosts had further opportunities to extend their advantage against a poor New Zealand side - who have yet to taste victory in this competition after 10 matches - but Cherchesov's charges have to settle for just the two goals. Russia will hope to secure their place in the latter stages of the competition when they take on Portugal on Wednesday, while Anthony Hudson’s side play Mexico on the same day.
Questions were asked of Russia before the tournament even began. Are they over their disappointing Euro 2016 campaign? How can they cope without the likes of the injured Artem Dzyuba and Roman Zobnin? Well, although it was only against 95th placed New Zealand, the performance suggested the Russians have not suffered any long-lasting mental pain from France. Credit where it is due, the new manager Stanislav Cherchesov appears to have instilled a new found confidence in this nation.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Fedor Smolov (Russia) – The absence of fellow striker Artem Dzyuba has heaped pressure on the 27-year-old to score the goals needed to guide Russia to success, but Smolov appears in confident form. Proved instinctive in front of goal.
Russia: Akinfeev 7; Kudrjasov 6, Vasin 6, Djikia 6, Zhirkov 7; Samedov 8, Glushakov 8; Golovin 7, Erokhin 7, Poloz 7; Smolov 8. Subs: Miranchuk N/A, Tarasov 5, Bukharov 5.
New Zealand: Marinovic 6; Durante 5, Bozall 6, Colvey 6, Wynne 5; Rojas 5, Smith 7, McGlinchey 6, Thomas 5; Wood 5, Barbarouses 5. Subs: Patterson 5, Smeltz 5, Tuiloma 5.
7’ - OFF THE POST! Russia win their third corner of the game. It's another great delivery from Samedov as his cross picks out the unmarked Dzhikiya. His headed effort hits the post and rolls across the line before McGlinchey hammers it clear.
8’ - OFF THE LINE! A lovely cross finds Poloz at the back post. He takes a clever touch and pokes it through the legs of the out-stretched goalkeeper but Smith is in the right place to clear just before it crosses the line.
14’ - PENALTY SHOUT! A routine long ball isn't dealt with by the New Zealand defence and suddenly Poloz is through in the clear. He tries to round the goalkeeper Marinovic but is caught. It looks like a stone-wall penalty but the referee signals play on!
31’ - GOAL! Russia finally have the lead. Glushakov, the Russian Footballer of the Year, lifts the ball over the New Zealand goalkeeper, but it'll go down as Boxall's own-goal. It's a deserved lead for Russia who have been completely dominant.
47’ - DOUBLE SAVE! Question marks have been raised over Marinovic throughout the match, but he has just made two excellent saves to keep New Zealand in the match. First, he did brilliantly to claw away Poloz's bullet header. Then he gathered himself to push away Erokhin's effort from the rebound.
52’ - CHANCE! Russia go close once more. Golovin charges forward with team mates either side. He feeds Poloz whose curled effort is tipped away by Marinovic and a New Zealand defender then makes a desperate clearance under pressure.
69’ - GOAL! Russia doubled their advantage! It's a simple tap-in for the top goalscorer of the Russian domestic league, Fedor Smolov. It was the Russian forward who started the move. He fed Samedov on the wing and the full-back delivered a low ball across the face of goal, it was missed by the New Zealand defenders and the clinical striker punishes them.
77’ – SAVE! Finally, New Zealand have a chance. It's a long distance effort from Thomas which tests the alertness of Akinfeev but the experienced Russian goalkeeper does well to force it out for a corner.
78’ - OFF THE LINE! New Zealand's corner. Smith is left unmarked and heads it towards goal. But it's hacked off the line by Kudryashov.