Russia beaten all ends up by Slovakia

Slovakia hold firm as Russia threaten late but are ultimately left exposed in Lille

Slovakia 2 Russia 1

Russia threatened to grab a late draw just as they had against England. Oleg Shatov's cross was headed home by the substitute Denis Glushakov and the sense of a repeat of Saturday was heightened by a flare going off among what appeared to be a Russian section of fans.

Leonid Slutsky's team pressed and pressed but were unable to find an equaliser and Slovakia held on to give the perfect riposte to losing their Group B opener to Wales. The result raises the stakes for England as they try to beat Gareth Bale and co on Thursday in Lens. Do that and England will lead the group with four points and be in command when facing Slovakia in Saint-Étienne on Monday in the final match.

Artem Dzyuba, who has said England fans were also to blame for the Marseille disturbances, fired the game's first shot, which was blocked. Moments later Russia's goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, had to keep a wary eye on a flying 25-yard effort by Marek Hamsik. The Napoli forward collected a crossfield pass expertly with a kind of running hitch-kick manoeuvre, the ball being played on into his path by a heel. A split second later and a shot was banged at goal which only rose too high at the last moment.


From here Russia took hold of the game but were not ruthless enough. They were helped by uncertain Slovakia defending. Matus Kozacik seemed mistrustful of his rearguard and the feeling was apparently mutual.

A high ball punted down the middle was flicked on by Aleksandr Golovin into Feder Smolov's path. Russia's No10 was transfixed before the ball and so were those Slovakia players nearest to him. When Smolov finally decided to take aim he smacked the effort wildly off target.

The move of the opening 45 minutes came from Russia. From inside their own half Oleg Shatov was involved in the ping-ping-ping of a sequence of crisp passing that ended with Dzyuba dummying a ball he might have hit first time.

A slick counterpunch seemed Slovakia's best chance of scoring and it proved thus via a wonderful Hamsik pass. He slotted an effortless ball into Vladimir Weiss's path as he strode into the opposition's area. The former Manchester City man had work to do and he did it. As the Russian cavalry arrived in the shape of Vasili Berezutski and the left-back, Igor Smolnikov, Weiss waited, leaving the pair to crash past him. With them out of the picture, Weiss placed a finish past Akinfeev that allowed him no chance.

On the strike of half-time came a peach from Hamsik, which would be the winner. Taking possession on the left from a short corner, he cut inside Shatov, then left fly a rocket, on the angle from 18 yards, that went in off the left post.

Cut to Slutsky on the bench looking stunned. Cut to the whistle going for the break, and Russia facing a mighty challenge.

Slutksy acted by replacing Roman Neustädter and Golovin with Pavel Mamayev and Glushakov. The coach may also have instructed his players to start taking chances and to stop allowing the space in which Weiss and Hamsik hurt them.

But what he saw was Robert Mak move down the left and warm Akinfeev's fingers in the first real move of the second half. At this point the only action Russia managed was the kind Kozacik would have wanted: a high and wide 25-yard attempt from Shatov.

When Russia had two corners in succession the second sailed straight into Kozacik’s hands. It was a fair measure of how becalmed they were as Slovakia seemed to cruise towards a win that would drew them level with Wales on three points at the head of the group.

Then came the frantic end in which the Russians were camped in and around Slovakia’s area but were unable to find the equaliser.