Germany ride luck after Klose tips balance
Russia 0 Germany 1
Sunday 11 October 2009
Lightning, it seems, doesn't strike twice. Russia spent almost the entirety of the build-up to last night's game comparing it to the match two years ago this week when they beat England and so – via a misadventure in Israel – qualified for Euro 2008 at their expense.
As in that game, they went in 1-0 down at half-time last night, and brought on Roman Pavlyuchenko to inspire a second-half rally, but the Germany of Joachim Löw is not the England of Steve McClaren.
Quite how Germany keep on doing it is mystifying; last night they were distinctly second best, particularly in the second half, and particularly in the second half of the second half after Jerome Boateng had been sent off for a second bookable foul on Vladimir Bystrov. But, somehow, they held on.
They have still never lost an away World Cup qualifier, and by winning last night inflicted upon Russia the first defeat either they or the USSR have suffered at home in World Cup qualifying. Even if it feels at times Germany are proceeding by some ancient genetic memory rather than on merit, the vital fact is that they are proceeding to next summer's World Cup finals.
Poor Bystrov. Especially in the later stages, he was one of Russia's most potent weapons, his pace terrifying a German backline that looks as slow as it ever was, but he is almost certain to be the designated scapegoat.
He gained an unfortunate notoriety during Euro 2008 when Russia's manager Guus Hiddink substituted him less than half an hour after bringing him on against Spain for failing to follow his tactical instructions. Life has not got much better for him since.
Zenit St Petersburg fans have hated him since he left them early in his career to join Spartak Moscow, and have systematically abused him since he rejoined them last month, despite four goals in four games.
Even worse, Spartak fans now see him as a traitor, and after last night the whole of Russia is likely to be cursing him after a performance that veered between the hapless and the unfortunate. He blundered on to an Andrey Arshavin through-ball that was clearly intended for Alexander Kerzhakov and miscontrolled, allowing Germany to recover, and then, when he ran on to a pass from the Arsenal playmaker that was meant for him, he could only sidefoot his finish into the chest of Rene Adler, the German goalkeeper. When he did get something right, meeting Igor Semshov's 56th-minute cross with a volley, the ball fizzed a fraction over.
But really, this was simply one of those nights when Germany exercised their age-old hold on the fates, scored with one of the only two chances they had, and then, through a combination of resolve and fortune, held on.
The goal itself was delightfully worked, and suggested that in Mesut Ozil, a key presence in their win at the European Under-21 championship in the summer, they really do have their first playmaker since Thomas Hassler retired. He played an intelligent one-two with Lukas Podolski and then, having run slightly wide, had the presence of mind to draw Igor Akinfeev and square for Miroslav Klose to jab over the line.
Thereafter it was a story of Russian pressure. Adler made fine saves from Arshavin and Semshov, and the home side had two convincing appeals for late penalties.
And while Russia never quite hit the rhythm that made them such a thrilling force at Euro 2008, they did enough to suggest that, with the benefit of seeding, they should be too strong for whoever they end up facing in the qualifying play-off.
Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)
Man of the match: Ballack
Match rating: 7/10
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