Ireland hold on for draw in Russia

Ireland hold on for draw in Russia
By Reuters

07/09/2011 at 00:17Updated 07/09/2011 at 18:01

Republic of Ireland defended doggedly in Moscow against Russia to hold on for a 0-0 draw in Group B of Euro 2012 qualification.

The home side were on top for the vast majority of the contest but could not convert their chances as Ireland defended for their lives and just about managed to keep wave after wave of Russian attacks out.

It did not take long for the Russians to start dominating as they got into their stride by knocking the ball around at the back in the opening minutes before becoming more adventurous over the first half.

Most of the Russian attacks were coming from the right flank where the combined forces of Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Andrey Arshavin and Aleksandr Anyukov were causing Ireland, and Stephen Ward in particular, some serious problems.

It was Kerzhakov and Arshavin who linked up to create the first real chance of the game as the former teed up the Arsenal man 25 yards out, but his low drive was well saved by Shay Given down to his left.

More good work from Kerzhakov on the right saw him pick out Igor Semshov on the edge of the box on 20 minutes and the Dynamo Moscow man, despite being off-balance, got a volley away that was heading for the bottom left corner, but Given was there again to make another low diving save.

Further efforts from Aleksei Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich flew wide, but it was Semshov who came closest to opening the scoring in the first 45 minutes.

Good work from former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov on the left saw him skip past two players as he made it into the box and he laid it on a plate for Semshov eight yards out. His effort had Given beaten but somehow Richard Dunne lunged across goal and kept a ball out that was heading for the bottom corner before Darren O'Dea was able to clear, heroic stuff from the Aston Villa man.

Just a minute later Russia continued their barrage on the Ireland goal as Konstantin Zyryanov sent a 20-yard effort narrowly wide of the left post with Given at full stretch.

The visitors were struggling to get out of their own half and the attacks were coming from all angles by the latter stages of the first half as Zhirkov even hit the near post direct from an in-swinging corner.

Russia seemed to have lost some of their momentum after coming back from the interval and Ireland were enjoying more of the ball, but still could not create any chances at all of their own.

The home side were looking surprisingly shot-shy as Semshov broke into the box 12 minutes into the second half and really should have pulled the trigger but tried to square it to Arshavin who had not read his thoughts and the ball rolled harmlessly out of play.

Anyukov then got to the bye-line again and cut the ball across the six-yard box but there was no one there to convert the opportunity.

The home side continued to dominate but were running out of time as Ireland continued to defend doggedly, Dunne especially proving stubborn at the back.

Dick Advocaat introduced Roman Pavlyuchenko and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and the latter had a great chance as the match entered its last 10 minutes. The Everton man was slid in on the left of the box by Zyryanov but he was leaning back as he struck the ball and it ended up a good 10 yards over the crossbar.

The best chance for Dick Advocaat's men came in the 88th minute and it really should have been the winner from Zyryanov. Pavlyuchenko picked out the midfielder with a pinpoint cross from the left but the Zenit St. Petersburg man's header was straight at Given when either side would have been a certain goal.

The rebound fell to Semshov and he had another great chance to win the game for his team but Keith Andrews did well to come across and block his effort.

Ireland just about held on as the match drew to a close and without getting in a shot on target they will be delighted with the result they achieved. Russia remain favourites to qualify from Group B but the Irish have kept their hopes alive with the point.

Elsewhere in the group, Armenia scored four second-half goals to crush Slovakia 4-0 in Zilna and keep alive their hopes of reaching the Euro 2012 finals.

Slovakia dominated play in the first half in Zilina but paid the price for wasted chances by Napoli's Marek Hamsik and Liverpool's Martin Skrtel.

Armenia, who had started the day three points behind Slovakia in Group B, turned the tables in the second half of the game, with Yura Movsisyan opening the score for the visitors in the 57th minute.

Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrik Mkhitaryan scored the second goal in the 70th before Gevorg Ghazaryan made it 3-0 with 10 minutes to play and 24-year-old Artur Sarkisov concluded the rout in injury time.

Mirko Ivanovski's goal gave Macedonia a 1-0 win over Andorra in Skopje securing a first victory for new coach John Toshack.

Ivanovski struck just before the hour after the hosts had wasted a succession of chances against a side who have lost all eight qualifiers.

Former Wales and Real Madrid manager Toshack was named coach last month, taking over from Mirsad Jonuz who was sacked in June after a string of poor results.

Macedonia lost 1-0 to Russia on Friday in Toshack's first game in charge.