MOSCOW, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Russia beat Macedonia 3-0 in a Euro 2008 Group E qualifier on Saturday to stay on track for next year's finals.
For that the Russians had to thank their reserve goalkeeper
Vyacheslav Malafeyev, who saved a 70th-minute penalty from Igor
Mitreski to preserve a 1-0 lead just after replacing Vladimir
Gabulov was sent off in the 69th minute for a professional
foul on Velice Sumulikoski in his own penalty box.
Vasily Berezutsky put the home side ahead five minutes into
the game, slotting the ball in at the far post following Andrei
Arshavin's free kick.
Russia could easily have doubled their lead before the break
but Vladimir Bystrov missed an open goal from a tight angle in
the 21st minute and Macedonia keeper Petar Milosevski made a
fine diving save to deny Dmitry Sychev a few minutes later.
Sychev wasted another golden chance early in the second
half, shooting wide from five metres and Roman Pavlyuchenko hit
tha post before Malafeyev's heroics.
Russia captain Andrei Arshavin made it 2-0 with a great solo
effort in the 83rd minute and Sevilla striker Alexander
Kerzhakov, a second-half substitute, made sure of the win three
Victory moved Russia top of the group with 18 points from
eight matches, a point ahead of England, who beat Israel 3-0,
and Croatia, who were playing Estonia in a later match on
Russia coach Guus Hiddink said he was pleased with the
outcome but added his side were a bit lucky to escape unharmed.
'There's an unwritten law in football that says if you don't
make the score 2-0 or 3-0 before halftime, you're going to have
problems,' the Dutchman told a news conference.
'And we were almost punished with that penalty kick.
Fortunately, Malafeyev saved the game for us.'