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Bilyaletdinov double but Slovenia strike late

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (R) and Miso Brecko

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (R) and Miso Brecko. Photo: AFP

Substitute Nejc Pecnik's late goal gave Slovenia a lifeline in their World Cup qualifying play-off against Russia.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's brace seemed to have put the home side in commanding but Pecnik - only introduced in the 83rd minute in place of Andraz Kirm - pounced two minutes from time for a potentially crucial away goal.

A capacity crowd of 80,000 - which included Russian president Vladimir Putin - had been issued with protective masks to guard against swine flu in the Luzhniki Stadium.

Slovenia threatened early on as Milivoje Novakovic pulled the ball back from the left but Valter Birsa's shot was deflected wide by Yuri Zhirkov.

Zhirkov - included despite an injury-hit start to his Chelsea career - then set off from his own half and tricked his way into the heart of the Slovenia penalty area, but his shot was repelled by the feet of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

Marko Suler's precise lofted pass then put Zlatko Dedic in behind the home defence. He was forced wide by Igor Akinfeev, though, and his weak shot went through the goalkeeper's legs but wide of the near post.

Sergei Ignashevich's fierce low drive from a 30-yard free-kick saw Handanovic again save with his legs. Ignashevich made an important challenge as Dedic looked to break before Russia conjured an excellent 41st-minute opener.

Roman Pavlyuchenko's neat pass with the outside of his foot found Bilyaletdinov on the edge of the box and the Everton midfielder beat centre-halves Suler and Bostjan Cesar with a superb drag-back before finishing powerfully with his weaker right foot.

Russia's Andrey Arshavin was booked in first-half injury-time for a petulant slap in the chest of Slovenia full-back Miso Brecko, who went down theatrically.

Two Zhirkov crosses saw Arshavin head wide before Pavlyuchenko's weak effort was blocked by Cesar. Handanovic then tipped over another Ignashevich rocket but Russia went 2-0 up in the 52nd minute. Bilyaletdinov got in the way of Arshavin's cross - meant for Sergey Semak - but finished calmly when the ball ricocheted back to him off Konstantin Zyryanov.

Vasili Berezutskiy made a strong tackle to halt Dedic's threatening run and Handanovic unconvincingly saved Pavlyuchenko's fine angled drive at his near post.

Suler was up well to cut out Bilyaletdinov's teasing through-ball and Pavlyuchenko had a diving header held by Handanovic.

Bystrov lobbed wastefully over the bar after being adjudged narrowly onside, before Russia had a let-off as Suler seemed to be impeded when jumping for a corner at the near post.

Bilyaletdinov went close to his hat-trick as a late header flashed wide and Pecnik shot wide after Novakovic's mishit volley bounced to him. But the substitute was on hand a minute later to head home from close range after Akinfeev tipped away Robert Koren's shot, Slovenia's first on target in the 90 minutes.

And Suler could have equalised in stoppage time, popping up unmarked at the back post to force a superb diving save from Akinfeev.

Semak: Mixed feelings

Russia midfielder Sergei Semak admitted Slovenia's late goal in their World Cup qualifying first leg play-off left him uneasy ahead of the return clash.

"The match left me with mixed feelings,'' Semak told RIA Novosti. "On the one hand, I'm pleased we won, but on the other hand, the way the game ended doesn't leave you at ease in the run-up for the next match. They didn't surprise us because it was obvious that they came here with the aim of not allowing a goal. Only after we scored the second goal did they go all out.''

Goalscorer Bilyaletdinov opted to let his football do the talking, offering only the assertion that: "All commentaries will be after the second match.''

Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek was relieved after Pecnik's contribution, and told the Slovenian FA's official website: "We have found a goal that keeps us in the game. In the first half we gave away a stupid goal, and we also started badly in the second half when (keeper Samir) Handanovic kept out some dangerous moves from the Russian team.''

Kek is hopeful for Wednesday's clash in front of his nation's own fans, and continued: "The People's Stadium can create a positive outcome. We must recover and prepare for the return meeting.'', November 14, 2009

Russia 2 - 1 Slovenia

Scoring Summary
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (40), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (51), Nejc Pecnik (88)

Match Information
Stadium: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Attendance: 70,000
Match Time: November 14, 2009, 16:00 UK
Official(s): Klaus Larsen (Referee)

Russia Slovenia
1 Igor Akinfeev 1 Samir Handanovic
4 Sergei Ignashevich 5 Bostjan Cesar
5 Vasili Berezutsky 2 Miso Brecko
2 Aleksandr Aniukov 4 Marko Suler
18 Yuri Zhirkov 13 Bojan Jokic
17 Konstatin Zurianov 18 Aleksandar Radosavljevic
11 Sergei Semak 8 Robert Koren
6 Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 17 Andraz Kirm
7 Igor Denisov 14 Zlatko Dedic
10 Andrei Arshavin 10 Valter Birsa
9 Roman Pavlyuchenko 11 Milivoje Novakovic
12 Vladimir Gabulov Jasmin Handanovic 12
3 Denis Kolodin Branko Ilic 6
13 Renat Yanbaev Andrej Komac 3
8 Igor Semshov Dalibor Stevanovic 16
15 Vladimir Bystrov Nejc Pecnik 7
14 Dmitri Sychev Rene Krhin 15
16 Alexander Kerzhakov Zlatan Ljubijankic 9
Alexander Kerzhakov for Sergei Semak (61)
Zlatan Ljubijankic for Zlatko Dedic (67)
  Dalibor Stevanovic for Valter Birsa (77)
  Rene Krhin for Zlatan Ljubijankic (80)
  Nejc Pecnik for Andraz Kirm (82)
Yellow Cards
Andrei Arshavin (45)
Dmitri Sychev (82)

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