Russia roared back into contention in UEFA EURO 2010 qualifying Group B with a thrilling 3-2 win over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Friday night. First-half goals from Alexander Kerzhakov and Alan Dzagoev and a second-half strike by Roman Shirokov stunned Irish, but a late home rally that brought goals from Robbie Keane and Shane Long ensured a tense finale.
Despite a dramatic final flurry, Ireland ultimately left themselves too much to do, and the defeat, just Ireland's second competitive loss under Giovanni Trapattoni, is a blow to their hopes of qualifying for EURO 2012, increasing the pressure to get a result from Tuesday's trip to Slovakia. Russia, meanwhile, bounced back from last month's defeat at home to Slovakia in the most impressive fashion and will be disappointed not to have won more convincingly, having dominated possession and chances.
Ireland's fans could not have anticipated such drama pre-match, but entered the Aviva Stadium in high spirits after Armenia beat Slovakia in the group's earlier kick-off. That confidence reached the players, who made an encouraging start and indeed, they will wonder how they failed to find the net in the opening minutes. Aiden McGeady's shot was parried by Igor Akinfeev and Russia failed to clear, causing a flurry of goalmouth action with Keane hitting the crossbar, Doyle coming close and McGeady flashing an effort across the face of goal and wide.
The raucous home support were silenced just moments later though, when Russia took the lead following the award of a soft free-kick against Richard Dunne, just outside the box. hay Given failed to hold Andrei Arshavin's pacy cross and from Sergei Ignashevich's overhead pass, Kerzhakov, who scored against Ireland in a 4-2 victory in 2002, stormed in past Glenn Whelan at the back post to grab his 16th international goal.
The momentum was with the visitors at this stage and following long-range efforts from Roman Shirokov and Dzagoev, Russia went two up on 28 minutes, with Dzagoev rounding off a smart passing move. Alexander Anyukov was sent clear down the right wing by Arshavin and the Zenit full-back fired an early, low pass into the box. Kerzhakov dummied and Dzagoev was perfectly placed to clip home past Given.
Sean St Ledger displayed Ireland's frustration by lashing out at Kerzhakov, and was lucky to see just a yellow, joining Denisov in referee Kevin Blom's book. Ireland have only once come from behind to win under Giovanni Trapattoni, a 2-1 victory over Georgia last year, but the Italian made no changes at the break.
McGeady stung Akinfeev's fingers with a curling shot moments after the restart but that bubble of optimism was again quickly pierced when Russia scored their third. Shirokov's effort carried little menace, but a huge deflection off Richard Dunne gave Given no chance and the Russia midfielder celebrated.
Shane Long and Darron Gibson entered play just after the hour mark for as Trapattoni tried to shake things up and Ireland were given a lifeline on 72 minutes when Keane was tripped in the box by Yuri Zhirkov and the Spurs attacker sent Akinfeev the wrong way to score his 45th international goal.
Ireland continued to pressure the Russian defence and after McGeady's shot was blocked by Akinfeev, Long followed up to reduce the deficit to 3-2 with 12 minutes remaining. But it was too little, too late as Russia held on to take all three points.