RUSSIA bounced back from an opening defeat to Belgium to secure a crucial 1-0 victory over Finland that keeps the 2018 World Cup quarter-finalists’ hopes of getting out the group alive. The home side started strongly in St Petersburg, grabbing the lead their play deserved on the stroke of half-time and setting up shop thereafter as the visitors struggled to break down their resistance.

Joel Pohjanpolo was the hero for the Finns in their opening fixture against Denmark and the striker had the ball in the back of the net within three minutes after some superb work from Jukka Raitala down the right. The wing-back burst forward to win the ball and curled a sublime cross that the Union Berlin striker steered home with aplomb, only for a VAR check to show Pohjanpolo was marginally offside.

That early fright sparked an immediate reaction from the home side, who quickly went about heaping pressure on their opponents as Markku Kanerva’s side broke forward sporadically on the counter. Russia might have enjoyed most of the ball but they never looked entirely comfortable at the other end, with Teemu Pukki and Pohjanpolo making a real nuisance of themselves.

Magomed Ozdoyev spurned a glorious opportunity as he skied over from a few yards out and Artem Dzyuba did well to fashion some space with some neat footwork before cracking the post, but the breakthrough would not arrive for Russia.

Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara, meanwhile, was his usual composed self in the middle. He offered Finland what was so painfully lacking from Scotland during the defeat to the Czechs – a ball player in midfield who would come short and show for the ball under pressure, and then calmly move it on or shift away from his marker.

A wonderful last-ditch intervention from Jere Uronen prevented a certain goal from substitute Vyacheslav Karavayev, who replaced the injured Mario Fernandes, at the back post before a wonderful piece of skill from Atalanta forward Aleksei Miranchuk nudged the Russians in front. Combining well with Dzubya, the 25-year-old danced his way into the Finland box and curled a delightful finish past Lukas Hradecky in first-half injury time.

A superb last-man tackle from Igor Diveev denied Pukki a one-on-one within minutes of the restart as Finland redoubled their efforts. A snap-shot from the same man was smothered easily by Matvei Safonov and in truth, the Russian keeper wasn’t seriously tested thereafter. The lack of guile on show from Kanerva’s men was conspicuous by its absence, and they could have few complaints when the full-time whistle rang out and signalled the defeat.