Russia kept injected life into their hopes of reaching the Euro 2020 knockout stages as they claimed a 1-0 win over Finland in Saint Petersburg.
Aleksey Miranchuk’s exceptional finish saw Stanislav Cherchesov’s side bounce back from a 3-0 defeat to Belgium on Saturday.
Miranchuk’s 47th-minute goal came with the game’s first shot on target – the longest wait for an effort on goal so far in Euro 2020 – and it set up an intriguing finish to Group B.
Both Russia and Finland remain in the running to reach the latter stages of the tournament having earned three points from their opening two fixtures.
A thrilling start saw Finland denied a well-worked opener by the linesman’s flag, Joel Pohjanpalo having wandered just slightly offside before heading home Jukka Raitala’s cross.
Russia responded well, but Magomed Ozdoev should have done far better than to lash over after being played in at close range by Miranchuk.
The hosts lost Mario Fernandes after an awkward fall but his replacement Vyacheslav Karavaev almost immediately opened the scoring, only for Jere Uronen to prevent him nudging in Daler Kuzyaev’s teasing cross.
Yet Russia’s breakthrough came on the stroke of half-time – Miranchuk playing a one-two with Artem Dzyuba inside the box before curling a sublime effort into the top-left corner.
Russia came within inches of doubling their lead shortly after the restart as Aleksandr Golovin sent an effort wide, though Teemu Pukki stung the palms of Matvey Safonov at the other end.
Lukas Hradecky pulled off a fine save down to his left to deny Kuzyaev and keep Finland in it.
But, while Russia were unable to make their chances pay in the final 15 minutes, they did enough to see out an important win in front of their vocal support.
What does it mean?
Both Russia and Finland know they are still in with a shout of progressing from Group B going into their final fixtures on Monday.
A fascinating battle for the qualification spots awaits and could be made even more interesting by a Denmark win over Belgium on Thursday that would leave all four teams on three points.
Miranchuk’s magical moment proves the difference
It would be fair to say that Miranchuk picked a perfect time to end a nine-game goalless run for Russia, which stretched back to November 2019, in netting a beauty in this must-win game.
The Atalanta forward also provided a creative spark, too, providing three key passes – one of which should really have led to an Ozdoev goal.
Kamara an unlucky loser
As was the case in the first game against Denmark, Glen Kamara gave his all to get Finland going.
The Rangers man had more touches than any of his team-mates (79) and attempted more passes (61) at an impressive success rate of 93.4 per cent as he provided much-needed composure in the centre of the park.
Key Opta Facts
– Russia have only lost one of their 19 matches against Finland in all competitions (including games as USSR/CIS), picking up 13 wins in the process (D5).
– Russia registered their first win at the European Championships since beating the Czech Republic in 2012 (4-1) – ending a six-match winless run in the competition.
– Since 1980, only Sweden at Euro 2016 (0) have managed fewer shots on target in their opening two games of a single European Championships tournament than Finland (two).
– Despite attempting 10 more shots against Russia (11) than they did versus Denmark (one), Finland’s xG total today was 0.72 – just 0.38 more than they posted against the Danes (0.34).
– Dzyuba has had a hand in 22 goals in his last 21 appearances in all competitions for Russia (14 goals, eight assists).
After starting their group-stage campaign with two games on home turf, Russia finish things off with a trip to Copenhagen to take on Denmark. Finland, meanwhile, stay in Saint Petersburg for a tricky meeting with one of the pre-tournament favourites Belgium.
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