Russia is closing in on Sweden in Group G of the Euro 2016 Qualifiers after a 1-0 win over the Swedes in Moscow on Saturday.
The Spartak Stadium was buzzing as the home nation took the the field for the first time under new head coach Leonid Slutsky. Sweden played a poor game and the mistakes in the first half cost them the game as Artem Dzyuba scored the only goal of the game.
The Russians played with a lot more freedom than what they did under former head coach Fabio Capello. Slutsky made some changes in the lineup, and one of them was starting Dzyuba who played up top as a target man. His physical style of play caused the Swedish central defensive pairing of Andreas Granqvist and Mikael Antonsson a lot of trouble.
Russia played a very direct style of play and often tried to reach Dzyuba with the longball and have him either keep the ball until support arrived or deflect it to Aleksandr Kokorin or Oleg Shatov on the flanks.
Both teams had goals disallowed by English referee Mark Clattenburg. Russia had one flagged off for offside and Sweden one for a tug of the shirt inside the penalty area. Both calls were questionable, but overall Clattenburg and his team had a good game, and didn’t put themselves in the spotlight.
Dzyuba scored the lone goal of the game in the 38th minute. Igor Smolnikov was bolting into the penalty area and as Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson came out to challenge him, Smolkov managed to find Dzyuba with a pass and he could put the ball into the empty net.
Sweden came out extremely passive in the opening half and they looked afraid and played more not to lose than to win. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to go off at halftime, as his injury troubles continues. He was replaced by Ola Toivonen, but the decision by Swedish head coach Erik Hamren to continue with a lone striker in a 4-5-1 system was the wrong one. He should have gone with two striker right from the bat in the second half and try to put some pressure on the Russian defense.
He did opt to go with two strikers later in the game when he subbed in Marcus Berg. That’s when Sweden started to see more of the ball and get some quality chances. The Russian center back pairing is not the quickest in the world, and with two strikers to keep tabs on, their flaws started to show.
Sweden had a couple of opportunities to tie the game, and Emil Forsberg had one of the best late in the game, but Igor Akinfeev in the Russian goal made a brilliant save as he dove down to his right corner and steered the ball to a corner.
The result could have some huge implications on the outcome of Group G. Austria tops the group, with Sweden and Russia battling for the second spot and an automatic place in Euro 2016 next summer in France. Sweden has 12 points and Russia is just one point behind after the victory on Saturday.
Russia takes on Liechtenstein on Tuesday on the road. They won the last meeting 4-0 back in September of last year in the opening game of the qualifiers. Although the game is in Liechtenstein, Russia will be huge favorites.
Sweden will host leaders Austria on Tuesday at the Friends Arena in Solna, just outside the capital Stockholm. This will be a huge game for Sweden, as this is pretty much a must win game for Hamren and his men if they want to keep Russia at bay. The two top teams in the group gets an automatic spot in the tournament along with the best third-placed team. The other eight third-placed nations will square off in the qualification playoffs.