Slovenia stun Russia
Slovenia clinched a place at the World Cup after a 1-0 home win over Russia secured an away goals triumph.
Last Updated: 18/11/09 10:27pm
Slovenia clinched a place in the World Cup finals after a 1-0 home win over Russia secured an away goals triumph on aggregate.
Russia had been favourites to progress to South Africa, but a late away goal in Moscow from Nejc Pecnik gave Slovenia hope for the return.
And the Slovenians took full advantage of a partisan home support to grab the only goal of the second leg a minute before half-time through Zlatko Dedic.
In the second half, Russia pressed the self-destruct button as Alexander Kerzhakov was sent off on 66 minutes before Chelsea's Yuri Zhirkov was dismissed in stoppage-time.
Matjaz Kek kept the same XI that started the match in Moscow, whilst Guus Hiddink brought in Lokomotiv Moscow's Renat Yanbaev at left-back and moved Zhirkov further forward to the left side of midfield.
Slovenia began the game with real purpose, whilst the Russians, having let a commanding two-goal cushion slip, looked nervy and disjointed, particularly in defence.
The warning signs were there for Hiddink as early as the fourth minute, when a simple through ball from Valter Birsa inexplicably cut open the Russian defence and allowed Milivoje Novakovic a clear sight of goal, but his finish lacked confidence and was straight at keeper Igor Akinfeev.
Six minutes later there was a huge let-off for Russia when Andraz Kirm's cross from the left struck the leg of the hapless Sergei Ignashevich, who saw the ball rebound off the post with Akinfeev motionless.
Dedic then beat Yanbaev to a deep cross from Novakovic, but his header lacked power and Akinfeev gathered comfortably.
As the clock ticked towards half-time, the home support erupted as Dedic got behind two Russian markers to turn in Birsa's cross and give Slovenia the lead at the break.
Hiddink made two changes at half-time, bringing on Sergei Semak and Kerzhakov for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yanbaev.
But Russia's night went from bad to worse when Dinamo Moscow striker Kerzhakov was shown a contentious red card by Norwegian referee Terje Hauge on 66 minutes.
Zhirkov's cross from the left was whipped in dangerously towards Kerzhakov, who got the better of his marker and slid in on goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, appearing to make a legitimate stab at the loose ball.
The challenge was interpreted as dangerous play by the referee, and closer inspection of the incident also appears to show Slovenia defender Bostjan Cesar strike Kerzhakov in the face, while goalkeeper Handanovic chipped in with a retaliatory hand aimed at the striker.
Hiddink reacted by throwing on another striker, Pavel Pogrebniak, in place of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and the Stuttgart man almost made an immediate impact with a 12-yard header from Arshavin's cross that was held by Handanovic.
As the game neared its dramatic climax, Zhirkov soared into the penalty box and hit a volley that was beaten out by Handanovic.
The ball was immediately cleared downfield to Dedic, who drilled a glorious opportunity wide, whilst at the other end Vasili Berezutsky came closest to finding an equaliser for Russia, volleying over from close range following Ignashevich's flick.
There were more ugly scenes in stoppage time as Zhirkov was shown a second yellow card following an altercation with a Slovenia substitute on the by-line.
Seconds from the end Novakovic had a further glorious chance to put the icing on the cake, and the final whistle brought scenes of jubilation, with Russia ultimately left to pay the heaviest of prices for not finishing the match off on Saturday.