Wales' bravery undone by brilliance of Arshavin

Wales 1 Russia 3
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The Independent Football

A familiar story for Wales, perhaps, but that did not make their brave defeat against a country ranked 61 places higher last night any less commendable. Guus Hiddink's face said it all when victory was confirmed. Relief. Unashamed relief.

Russia gained the three points they needed to go on to face Germany in the likely winner-goes-through Group decider in Moscow next month, while John Toshack's young Dragons will work ahead to the next qualifying campaign with renewed hope.

"We can take a lot of encouragement from this," said their goalscorer James Collins. "For long periods we were on top against the team ranked sixth in the world. It was about time we came to the Millennium Stadium and put on a display for our fans. I thought we did that tonight."

Indeed they did, but what a shame only 11,589 bothered to turn up. Not just because they missed a spirited Wales performance; but also because of a few of Andrei Arshavin's touches. They were worthy of any admission fee. So much for Arsène Wenger's concerns about the little Arsenal playmaker starting after the groin strain he suffered against Manchester United two weeks ago.

It was Arshavin who punctured the first Welsh bubble. They had the best of the opening quarter, although Chris Gunter was lucky not to concede a penalty when bringing down Vladimir Bystrov. Arshavin's most notable moment of brilliance came in the 36th minute when cutting in from the right flank and drifting across before conjuring a disguised left-footed pass into the pathway of Igor Semshov whose clinical finish befitted the provision.

Wales' heads were raised after the break when Collins showed the natural instincts of a marksman by turning in Aaron Ramsey's corner in the 54th minute.

It did take some cynical gamesmanship on behalf of Serguei Semak to check the home side's momentum – he rolled around on the floor, duping the naive referee into stopping the play just when Wales were commanding possession. In the 71st minute, after Danny Gabbidon had climbed over Alexander Kerzhakov on the edge of the area, the defender Sergei Ignashevich hammered in the free-kick.

Then Tottenham Hotspur's Roman Pavlyuchenko, in the first minute of injury time, made a mockery of the prohibitive angle when firing across Wayne Hennessey.

"That scoreline flattered them," said Toshack. Any bitterness was understandable.

Wales (5-4-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Ricketts (Bolton), Gabbidon (West Ham), Collins (Aston Villa), A Williams (Swansea), Gunter (Nottingham Forest); Edwards (Wolves), Ledley (Cardiff), Stock (Doncaster), Ramsey (Arsenal); Bellamy (Manchester City). Substitutes used: Vokes (Wolves) for Gabbidon, 74.

Russia (4-4-2): Akinfeev (CSKA); Anyukov (Zenit), Ignashevich (CSKA), Berezutsky (CSKA), Yanbaev (Lokomotiv Moscow); Bystrov (Spartak), Semak (Rubin Kazan), Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Zyryanov (Zenit); Arshavin (Arsenal), Kerzhakov (Dynamo Moscow). Substitutes used: Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham) for Semshov, 70; Rebko (FC Moscow) for Kerzhakov, 83.

Referee: J De Sousa (Portugal).

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