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MOSCOW: Russia continued their perfect start to qualification for the 2014 World Cup, extending their winning streak to four matches with a hard-fought 1-0 win over visiting Azerbaijan here yesterday.
A late goal by Zenit midfielder Roman Shirokov allowed Fabio Capello’s Russia to maintain their 100 percent record in Group F, as they moved onto 12 points to stay top of the table, six points ahead of second-placed Portugal, who play Northern Ireland.
Azerbaijan started in lively fashion and created the game’s first scoring chance in the fourth minute, when full back Sergei Ignashevich’s last-ditch block denied Ali Gokdemir’s close-range attempt.
Russia, following up Friday’s 1-0 win over Portugal, replied positively, pinning Azerbaijan back and threatening on a series of occasions only to be undone by their innaccuracy in front of Kamran Agayev’s goal.
Alexander Kokorin came close to putting the hosts in front on 25 minutes but his uncontested shot from the edge of the box went just inches wide of Agayev’s right-hand post.
Kokorin’s strike partner Alexander Kerzhakov was then denied by the frame of the goal on the half-hour mark as his strike from just inside the area rebounded off the woodwork.
Midfielder Dmitry Kombarov and skipper Igor Denisov also squandered opportunities for the home side prior to the break.
Russia continued to dominate play after the interval on the synthetic surface at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, keeping Azerbaijan under constant pressure but the visitors defended confidently, restricting Capello’s side to speculative long-range efforts.
Russia appeared bereft of ideas as they looked to be running out of gas around the hour mark with passes going astray and their play growing increasingly erratic. Shirokov then had a point-blank effort kept out by the legs of Agayev on 73 minutes, but the Zenit player made amends six minutes from time as he slotted home the winner from the penalty spot after defender Gokdemir had brought down substitute midfielder Vladimir Bystrov to spare Russia’s blushes.
In Welligton, Michael McGlinchey scored two goals 90 minutes apart to help New Zealand seal a 3-0 victory over Tahiti in the third round of Oceania qualifying yesterday.
The midfielder smashed home from outside the box in the third minute after some poor defending from the Oceania champions.
The All Whites then had numerous chances to kill off the match but were unable to make the game safe until Chris Killen stabbed home a rebound in the 90th minute. McGlinchey then sealed the 3-0 win with a powerful drive over Mikael Roche in the third minute of added time in Christchurch. The victory moved Ricki Herbert’s undefeated side to 12 points and within sight of the final hurdle for qualification to their second successive World Cup finals, though they could face a challenge in their next match against New Caledonia.Agencies