Russia opens Confederations Cup with uninspiring win over New Zealand

Denis Glushakov (8) and Russia earned three points against New Zealand in the 2017 Confederations Cup opener, but didn't exactly look impressive in doing so. (Getty)
Denis Glushakov (8) and Russia earned three points against New Zealand in the 2017 Confederations Cup opener, but didn’t exactly look impressive in doing so. (Getty)

A Confederations Cup host nation hasn’t failed to advance to the knockout stages since 2001.

If the Russians want to reach them, they’re going to have to be a lot better than they were in this year’s opener.

Russia scored on both sides of halftime to secure a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Saint Petersburg, a performance that won’t exactly have the other two teams in Group A, powers Portugal and Mexico, shaking in their boots.

With Russian president Vladimir Putin in attendance, the hosts dominated possession in the early going but had nothing to show for it until the 31st minute. Alexandr Yerokhin seized an errant touch by New Zealand and played through Denis Glushakov, who chipped keeper Stefan Marinovic and forced an own goal by Michael Boxall in the scramble:

Russia doubled the lead in the 69th minute when Fyodor Smolov, who was the best player on the pitch for most of Saturday, played the ball out wide to Aleksandr Samedov and tapped home the return cross:

New Zealand never came closer to scoring than a 78th-minute sequence when Ryan Thomas’ half-volley strike was saved by Igor Akinfeev, and Tommy Smith’s header on the ensuing corner was cleared off the line by Yuri Zhirkov just inside the far post.

One of the big talking points in the build-up to the Confederations Cup was video assistant referees, who essentially serve as an instant replay system and are being utilized for the first time in a major international tournament.

A couple VAR flashpoints occurred in the first half, though neither was ultimately whistled. In the seventh minute, Russian defender Viktor Vasin’s header hit the left post and bounced along the goal line before being cleared, and replay showed it never fully crossed. A few minutes later, striker Dmitry Poloz looked to have been brought down by Marinovic in the box, although Poloz’s touch was heavy and carried the play away from goal.

Russia qualified for the Confederations Cup as host of the 2018 World Cup, while New Zealand won the minnow-laden OFC Nations Cup last summer. Portugal and Mexico, the reigning European and North American champions, respectively, remain heavy favorites to advance from Group A and will face each other Sunday in Kazan.

Still, the Russians secured the three points they needed to. It remains to be seen if they can capitalize.

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