Resurgent Russia beats Sweden in Euro 2016 qualifying
MOSCOW (AP) Russia revived its hopes of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship by defeating Sweden 1-0 at home on Saturday.
Sweden was dealt a double blow in losing talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injury.
Meanwhile, Group G leader Austria moved to within a single point of qualifying for the tournament in France.
Artyom Dzyuba ended Russia’s 11-month wait for a competitive goal, scoring off the post in the 38th minute, after Igor Smolnikov played on Roman Shirokov’s backheel pass.
Late on, Sweden’s Martin Olsson cleared an Alexander Kokorin shot off the line.
”I’m very happy that we managed to get the win in my first match,” said Russia coach Leonid Slutsky, who was appointed last month as Fabio Capello’s replacement following a run of poor form. ”The match was very exciting and tense.”
Russia stayed third in Group G but was only one point behind Sweden, which holds the second of the automatic qualifying places.
Both teams could have scored in a panicked five minutes of second-half stoppage time which saw Kokorin fire one shot at goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and another over the bar, while Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev saved a hard, low shot from Emil Forsberg in the dying seconds.
Both teams also had goals disallowed in the first half. Russia midfielder Shirokov, playing high up the pitch, saw his eighth-minute strike called back for a doubtful offside, and Andreas Granqvist put the ball into the net, only to be called back for a foul.
Ibrahimovic was replaced by Ola Toivonen at halftime after complaining of a leg injury. Coach Erik Hamren said it was not clear if Ibrahimovic would be able to play against Austria on Tuesday.
”It’s a big difference if he’s playing or not, because he’s a world-class player,” Hamren said.
Group leader Austria won for the sixth game in a row as Zlatko Junuzovic scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory against bottom-placed Moldova.
The Austrians failed to break down a determined Moldovan defense until the 52nd, when Zlatko Junuzovic scored on the rebound after David Alaba’s low shot was parried.
Referee Aleksandar Stavrev disallowed a Marko Arnautovic goal for offside in the 41st, though the Austrian winger received the ball from a Moldovan defender.
Austria has a seven-point lead over Sweden, and needs one point from its last three games to secure qualification.
Also, fourth-place Montenegro won 2-0 at home against Liechtenstein with goals from Fatos Beciraj and Stevan Jovetic.