Russia top group despite flat display


Russia 2 Tunisia 0

Russia made a solid but uninspiring start to their World Cup campaign with a victory over Tunisia in Kobe today.

Second-half goals from Yegor Titov and Valery Karpin, from the penalty spot, secured Russia the victory their dominance warranted, though they impressed only intermittently.

In fact, it was not until Tunisia goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel's 59th minute mistake - pounced upon by Titov for the breakthrough - that Russia settled.

The result put them top of group H, but rivals Japan and Belgium, who drew 2-2 on Tuesday, will have seen little to fear.

The absence of playmaker Alexander Mostovoi through injury was always going to restrict their potency in Kobe today.

Russia v Tunisia
A Tunisian fan encourages his side from the stands in Kobe
(© Reuters)

Vladimir Beschastnykh made some intelligent runs on occasions, but too often the talented Karpin and Titov, who also dragged a right foot shot wide in the final moments of the first half, pondered in possession.

In fact, it was Tunisia who nearly took the lead after 21 minutes when Hassen Gabsi burst through on the counter-attack and defenders Yuri Nikiforov and Yuri Kovtun combined to bundle the ball wide of the post.

They began the second half brightly, with Slim Ben Achour firing inches wide from 20 metres and Karpin rescuing Russia with a brilliant defensive header when Adel Sellimi was poised to head home.

But shortly after that flurry, their hopes of only a second ever World Cup finals victory - 24 years after the first - disappeared.

Boumnijel's throw out of defence gifted possession to Russia and, after the ball fell kindly to him just inside the area, Titov clipped a right foot shot low past the `keeper.

Four minutes later, substitute Dmitry Sychev was tripped in the area by Radhi Jaidi. Karpin then sent Boumnijel the wrong way from the penalty spot.