Russia defies poor form to beat Romania in Chechnya
ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 16, 2016 10:56 AM
Russia's Magomed Ozdoev, right, celebrates his goal with Alexander Erokhin during an international friendly soccer match between Russia and Romania in Grozny, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin)
GROZNY, Russia (AP) — Three days after being criticized by Vladimir Putin, Russia ended a run of poor form Tuesday by beating Romania 1-0.
Magomed Ozdoev grabbed a last-minute winner in the friendly for the 2018 World Cup host.
Russia had won just one of its last 10 matches, triggering the Russian president to remark that "we haven't seen beautiful play from the national team for a long time."
In the first international game to be played in the formerly war-torn Russian region of Chechnya, Russia struggled for much of the 90 minutes due to poor finishing and good saves from Romanian goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
That all changed when Romania struggled to clear the ball in the final minute of stoppage time. Some fortunate deflections saw the ball fall to Ozdoev for an easy finish despite a possible offside.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov is trying to inject new blood into a team which was among the oldest at the summer's European Championship, where it crashed out. He opted Tuesday for Spartak Moscow's up-and-coming Ilya Kutepov and Terek Grozny's Andrei Semyonov at center back. The partnership held up well though rarely came under sustained pressure from a Romanian team which also failed to qualify from the group stage in Euro 2016.
Pantilimon showed good reactions to keep out Alexander Samedov's effort for Russia early on, before Dorin Rotariu missed the target when one-on-one with Russian 'keeper Igor Akinfeev in Romania's best opportunity of the game.
Samedov shot wide just before halftime, and Russia came close again in the 65th when Alexander Kokorin mis-hit a shot straight at the advancing Pantilimon when a slight lob would have likely scored.
Russia was able to host Romania in Chechnya, which is ruled by sports-loving and pro-Kremlin strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, because it was a friendly rather than a competitive European game. UEFA has consistently refused to allow games to be played in Chechnya due to security concerns.
One team at the 2018 World Cup will be based in Grozny despite occasional incidents of unrest there, including an attack by militants in December 2014 which left more than 20 people dead.