Finland 0-3 Russia: Impressive Kerzhakov Strikes Twice in Helsinki
Guus Hiddink and Russia had no problems putting away Finland last October.
But that match was held in the ever-friendly confines of Dynamo Stadium in Moscow. A change of scenery could be all the Finns need, as the latest match moved into an energized Olympic Stadium in Helsinki.
Hiddink had also inserted several new players to the lineup, including Dynamo Moscow striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who was making his first international appearance since November of 2007.
Different location. Different names. Different crowd. Exact same result.
After yet another 3-0 victory for Russia, Finland now drops to 0-4-12 against it's eastern nemesis and stares World Cup elimination in the face.
For those making the relatively short trip from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, heavily armored vehicles and Finnish infantry flanked the sides of R10, and became more noticeable once entering the city.
When the Finns say to "Prepare for the worst," they mean exactly that.
They had no difficulty packing the house, as the Olympic Stadium was filled to nearly 40,000 strong, with great support from both respective sides. And as expected, a full crew of riot police lined the track in front of a large contingent of Russian supporters.
Also, in relatively expected fashion, some fanatic decided to waste his flare by tossing it at them. Who cares if nobody has scored yet?
After a stunning, yet different, performance of the Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii by Olga Nikolskaja-Heikkila, the two sides prepared to do battle.
Mere minutes into the contest, Vladimir Bystrov was hauled down in full stride, drawing a yellow for defender Toni Kallio.
Andrei Arshavin took the ensuing free kick, but was unable to do much with it.
If there's anything to learn about Andrei Arshavin, he will always rebound with a strong effort after a misfire.
He then found former Zenit St. Petersburg teammate Konstantin Zyryanov uncovered inside and fed the ball to him. Zyryanov, after drawing all of the attention from Finnish defense, passed it back for Kerzhakov, who was now staring at an empty net.
However, his blast sailed way over the top of the cage, rather harmlessly.
The draw was finally broken open a couple minutes later. Defenseman Sergei Ignashevich made a solid pass upfield to Arshavin, who maybe had the ball for a quarter of a second before one-touching it off to Kerzhakov.
The wily Dynamo striker bolted past a duo of Finnish defenders, then danced around goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen before depositing it into a wide open net. He was not planning on missing another golden opportunity. The Sbornaja faithful roared their approval as he peeled off and rejoiced, both hands raised to the sky.
Finnish defender Hannu Tihinen, who had attempted to make a desperation sliding save on the play, could only look up and watch the red-clad side as they mobbed Kerzhakov.
Despite playing at home, the Finns still struggled to get anything going forward. Ignashevich, along with towering central defender Vasili Berezutsky of CSKA Moscow, did a marvelous job of frustrating any attempts of offense that the men in white could muster.
However, Jonathan Johansson, one of the trio of strikers that Finland employed, made many Russian hearts skip a beat just moments before halftime.
The lanky Hibernian forward fired a missile directly into the gloves of Igor Akinfeev, who made a somewhat challenging save look routine.
But as soon as it seemed that the officials had gone invisible, referee Konrad Plautz had the masses of Red Army supporters up in arms, screaming profanities in his general direction.
Arshavin tried to pad the visitors' advantage in stoppage time, but his shot was batted down by the forearm of Tihinen. No call made, let's go to the lockers.
No way was that going to frustrate Russia. Not today.
Guus Hiddink's men were going to get that second goal and it didn't matter how it was done.
Bystrov took a feed from Igor Semshov a couple minutes into the second half, danced with Finnish captain Sami Hyypia for a few moments, then ran past him into the box. He unloaded a rocket shot from point blank range, only to have Jaaskelainen punch it away.
His wonderful save immediately turned into misfortune.
The deflection came straight out onto Kerzhakov's foot, who quickly fired it into the net for his second score of the night. Not bad for a man who hadn't played with the national team in 19 months.
Jubilant yet again, Kerzhakov jumped over the wall, onto the track and ran towards the Russian supporters.
Now down by two on their home turf, Finland was desperate. Manager Stuart Baxter used all three of his substitutes within 15 minutes after Kerzhakov's goal. Midfielders Niklas Moisander and Teemu Tainio came on along with striker Joonas Kolkka.
Surprisingly, carded and incredibly ineffective defender Hannu Tihinen was not one of the three men coming off the pitch.
Not that the substitutes made much of an impact anyway.
In the 70th minute of play, with Russia on a full speed attack again, Zyryanov raced down the left side unchallenged, all the way into the box. For a moment, time froze, as he probably couldn't believe how much space he was given.
After a hesitation, he took a short swing and easily beat Jaaskelainen for his third goal in as many games.
The true miracle of the goal wasn't even the fact that Zyryanov walked in and scored.
Roman Pavlyuchenko, who had just come on for Kerzhakov and looking for an immediate result, was also absolutely wide open. He was standing right in front of the goal mouth, with not a single defender within a ten meter radius.
Vladimir Bystrov was also available to score on the play.
When Finland finally did get a decent opportunity, it turned into a wreckage. With time evaporating off the clock, Udinese offensive midfielder Roman Eremenko made his presence felt for the first time all match. He tried to go low on Akinfeev, but awkwardly had his shot blocked by his own teammate.
A falling Mikail Forssell slid in attempt to deflect the shot, but instead blocked it out of play. If it wasn't for that error, nobody would have even been able to say he was playing today. Another Finnish disappearing act.
Finally, the whistle sounds to end the debacle before it got any worse. Honestly, Finland were lucky to have only lost 3-0. It could have been five or six for Russia.
Guus Hiddink and Russia now move to 5-0-1 in Group Four of World Cup Qualifying, and sit one point behind Germany.
- Igor Akinfeev has now run his clean streak to four games, over 422 minutes in total without allowing a goal. The 23-year-old CSKA Moscow keeper already has 32 caps to his name.
- Captain Arshavin had to be the man of the match. He was all over the field at all times, causing problems for Finland any time he touched the ball. But then, Kerzhakov had two goals so it's difficult.
- Russia will next meet South American goliath Argentina in an international friendly in Moscow. The next qualifying match will bring Liechtenstein to Luzhniki Stadium on September 9.
- Aleksandr Kerzhakov now has four multi-goal games in his international career. The last came at St. Petersburg's Petrovsky Stadium, a hat trick on June 2, 2007 against Andorra.
- It's incredibly unlikely that either Germany or Russia will fall before their October showdown in Moscow. In all chances, that will be the match to decide first and second place in the group.
- Midfielder Konstantin Zyryanov had never scored an international goal before Dick Advocaat took over at Zenit St. Petersburg. Now he has seven in 13 months.
- Memo to Finland: Please draw with Germany again.
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