Release Date: 07/09/2012
NORTHERN Ireland slipped to a two-goal defeat in their opening World Cup qualifier this evening in Moscow.
Although not an entirely unexpected outcome it was a credible performance from Michael O'Neill's side against a Russian side that, alongside Portugal, are obvious favourites to progress from Group F.
As expected, Russia enjoyed the early chances with perhaps Alexander Kerzhakov coming closest on 18 minutes only to fire wide from around eight yards out.
But Kerzhakov did have a hand in the opening goal, on 30 minutes, when his defence splitting pass allowed Viktor Fayzulin through to send a composed finish beyond Roy Carroll.
Roman Shirokov almost made it 2-0 within four minutes only to Carroll to make a near post save.
Then, nine minutes in the second half, Vasily Berezutsky might have doubled Russia's lead but he couldn't keep his header from a Dmitry Kombarov header on target.
And only the woodwork denied Fabio Capello's men with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining after Kerzhakov thumped a free-kick against an upright from just outside the area.
However, the Northern Ireland rearguard was finally breached again three minutes later after a somewhat questionable penalty award following a Craig Cathcart foul on substitute Aleksandr Kokorin, Shirokov stepping up to send Carroll the wrong way.
The visitors did come within a whisker of reducing the deficit in the first minute of stoppage time after Gareth McAuley fired in a half-volley from a free-kick only for the ball to be blocked by Shirokov.
Although it wouldn't have prevented the defeat it would have given Northern Ireland a boost ahead of Tuesday night's clash with Luxembourg at Windsor Park (7:45pm).
Russia: Akinfeev, Aniukov, Ignashevich, Berezutsky, Denisov, Shirokov, Dzagoev, Bystrov, Fayzulin, Kombarov, Kerzhakov subs Gabulov (not used), Shunin (not used), Schennikov (not used), Taras Burlak (not used), Berezutsky (not used), Yeschenko (not used), Glushakov (replaced Fayzulin 58), Zyryanov (not used), Samedov (not used), Ozdoev (not used), Kokorin (replaced Dzagoev 59)
Northern Ireland: Carroll, McAuley, J. Evans, Baird, Hughes, Cathcart, S. Davis, Brunt, C. Evans, Ward, Lafferty subs Camp (not used), Mannus (not used), Hodson (not used), McGivern (not used), Clingan (not used), Norwood (not used), Shiels (replaced C. Evans 84), Carson (not used), Little (replaced Ward 76), Grigg (not used)
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