Pogrebnyak brace gives Russia winning start
© AFP

Russia were indebted to Pavel Pogrebnyak for getting their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying campaign off on a winning note, with the striker scoring both goals in a 2-0 success in Andorra.

A strong start saw the eastern Europeans take a 14th-minute lead with a well-worked goal. However, Andorra succeeded in roughing their opponents up at the Estadi Comunal, and it was not until the 64th minute that Russia secured some breathing space through Pogrebnyak's penalty.

Russia started brightly, with Andrey Arshavin in the thick of the action. In the sixth minute he tested Andorra goalkeeper Jose Antonio Gomes, who made the save comfortably.

Having dispensed with their recently-favoured short passing game, the visitors were getting the ball forward directly when possible and the opening goal came promptly in the 14th minute. Konstantin Zyryanov won the ball well and fed Arshavin, who cleverly found Pogrebnyak. The Stuttgart player beat his man before firing hard and low from the left side of the penalty area to break the deadlock.

Arshavin had a chance five minutes later but Gomes saved well. Andorra tried to claw their way back into the game while breaking up Russia's advances at any cos, and received three yellow cards midway through the half for cynical fouls in the middle of the pitch.

Arshavin continued to threaten, collecting Zyryanov's pass but shooting wide. Pogrebnyak then skilfully evaded two defenders and crossed for the Arsenal playmaker, but again Gomes denied him.

Shortly before half-time Sergio Moreno had a chance for Andorra, from inside the area, but failed to connect cleanly with his shot and Igor Akinfeev collected easily. The game petered out until around the hour mark, Russia dominating but failing to really threaten.

Then Russia put the result beyond doubt. Alan Dzagoev, on as a substitute, was found by Arshavin before being illegally denied by Gomes inside the box. Pogrebnyak duly converted the penalty calmly.

The 26-year-old then missed a chance for his hat-trick before Arshavin, Igor Semshov and Dzagoev all went close while Andorra were limited to long-range strikes.