Russia labour to beat Northern Ireland
Moscow: Russia beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their World Cup qualifier here under coach Fabio Capello, in his first competitive game in-charge.
Michael O`Neill`s Northern Ireland team were the clear underdogs but their failure to create a single clear-cut chance in O`Neill`s first competitive game may worry the new coach, giving little impression that the team could mount a surprise bid for a place in Brazil 2014.
"We could have scored more goals. I`m very satisfied with what we demonstrated today," said Capello Friday.
Capello said the cut-up pitch and Ireland`s defensive tactics had caused Russia problems.
"It was difficult because the pitch was not perfect," he said.
"It was difficult to find space because there were so many players in front of the goal."
His counterpart O`Neill said Northern Ireland had not played to their best.
"We`re disappointed to lose the game," O`Neill said.
"We were disappointing in our possession at times. We had to work so hard off the ball."
Russia took the lead in the first half-hour after a neat passing move, Alan Dzagoev feeding Alexander Kerzhakov in the box, who laid the ball off for midfielder Viktor Faizulin to score his first international goal with a left-footed shot into the top-left corner.
Roman Shirokov scored the hosts` second from the penalty spot in the 78th minute with a shot into the bottom-right corner of the goal after Craig Cathcart barged into Alexander Kokorin in the box.
"At 1-0, we were well in the game. The very soft penalty killed the game for us," O`Neill said.
"My initial thought was that (the referee) had booked the striker for his theatrics," he said, adding that a "very poor" pitch could have caused Kokorin to trip.
Northern Ireland`s best hope came when Gareth McAuley headed a Chris Brunt corner wide as the Russia defence were slow to react.
Soon after the break, Vasily Berezutsky headed wide at a Russia corner.
Russia began to sit back and concentrate on keeping possession, while right-back Alexander Anyukov won himself a yellow card for time-wasting as early as the 64th minute.
There was a minute`s silence before the match in memory of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team killed in a plane crash a year before.