Moldova holds Russia to draw in Euro qualifying
MOSCOW (AP) — Alexandru Epureanu’s header earned Moldova a surprise 1-1 draw with Russia in Moscow on Sunday, paving the way for Austria to take the top spot in their European Championship qualifying group.
Russia struggled to break down a dogged Moldovan defense until the 73rd minute, when Artyom Dzyuba earned and converted a penalty following a foul by Victor Golovatenco.
Manager Fabio Capello signaled emphatically that he did not want Dzyuba to take the penalty, but the Spartak Moscow striker snatched the ball from Alan Dzagoev to take the spot kick, and once he had scored, appeared to apologize to Capello.
Moldova responded within seconds of the restart as Epureanu headed home from Alexander Dedov’s corner.
The result leaves Capello’s Russia team second in Group G, two points behind Austria, which won 1-0 at home to Montenegro on Rubin Okotie’s first-half goal.
Russia is now unbeaten in five games since its 1-0 loss to Belgium in the World Cup group stage.
Sweden sits third following an unconvincing 2-0 win over Liechtenstein at home.
The match at Spartak Moscow’s Otkrytie Arena was Russia’s first at a completed 2018 World Cup stadium.
Capello experimented with his squad, leaving some key players out of the starting lineup, including left-back Dmitry Kombarov and striker Alexander Kokorin.
At the end of a first half in which Russia failed to create any good-quality chances, Moldova almost snatched the lead on the stroke of halftime. An over-hit cross by Ion Jardin found Alexandru Gatcan, who was left with a wide-open goal but contrived to skew his shot wide.
At half-time, a large banner was unfurled by Russian fans with pictures of fighters in the pro-Russian rebel movement in Ukraine.
Russia missed a good chance on 54 minutes when Alan Dzagoev fumbled a bicycle kick and the ball rolled to holding midfielder Denis Glushakov, whose pile-driver shot went narrowly over the bar.
In Vienna, the Pakistan-born, half-Nigerian Okotie’s 24th-minute goal won the game for Austria against a flat Montenegro side.
Montenegro went into the qualifying group with hopes of reaching Euro 2016, but had already been struggling after an opening win over Moldova was followed with a goalless draw against Liechtenstein last week.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic not playing because of a heel injury, Sweden’s victory over Liechtenstein was inspired by Jimmy Durmaz, who set up Erkan Zengin for the first goal and scored the second himself.