Aleksandr Kerzhakov's early goal was enough for Ruissia to top Group B but they have Igor Akinfeev to thank for saving a penalty.Russia squeaked out a tight 1-0 victory over Macedonia in Skopje thanks to a single goal from Aleksandr Kerzhakov. It took the Sbornaya to the summit of Group B but the visitors had goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to thank after the CSKA Moscow man saved a penalty in the second-half.
Macedonia were poor for a large part of the game but woke up in the second period, striking the crossbar and creating a number of threatening openings without forcing Akinfeev into further saves.
Russia dominated what was a very scrappy affair in the first-half and the Sbornaya's nerves were settled as early as the eighth minute. A neat through ball from Aleksandr Anyukov found his club team-mate Aleksandr Kerzhakov on the right side of the box. The Zenit St Petersburg hitman took a touch to steady himself and blasted the ball beyond Edin Nuredinovski.
Russia continued to edge the first half as CSKA Moscow starlet Alan Dzagoev beat his marker before being denied with a curling effort.
Minutes later captain Andrei Arshavin drilled a dangerous low volley across the face of goal, which was just out of reach for Kerzhakov.
Macedonia were aggressive and late in the tackle numerous times but failed to give the home crowd anything to cheer about, only calling Akinfeev into action when their crossing was poor.
It was another Zenit St Petersburg man who had the clearest chance to give the visitors a cushion before half-time but Konstantin Zyryanov's volley was hit straight at the 'keeper.
Macedonia were given a wake up call during the break and thought they deserved a penalty at the start of the second period. However, the replay showed that there was little contact on runner Mario Djurovski and two attackers were in fact offside when the ball was played through.
Russia look rattled and were forced to clear their lines after Filip Despotovski really should have done better from a useful cross by Ivan Trickovski. It took one hour but finally the home fans were starting to get behind their team.
It spurred the hosts on, RPL based striker Stevica Ristic heading a corner off the crossbar from a corner.
Russia and Zenit's midfield trio failed to retain the ball in the second half, as the pitch continued to cut up horribly. Macedonia however looked rejuvenated and were awarded a controversial penalty with twenty minutes remaining. There was hardly any contact on Ilco Naumoski when he headed wide and Sergey Ignashevich was booked for protesting.
Naumoski himself stepped up to take the spot-kick but Akinfeev dived low to his left to block to the relief of his colleagues.
Neither side managed to test the goalkeepers after and Russia held on for a vital three points in their last competitive game of 2010. Coach Dick Advocaat will be happy with the result and the loss leaves Macedonia thankful other teams were unable to pick up maximum points in front of them.
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