After throwing a wall that culminated in a brilliant twisted finish, Alexei Miranchuk finally made Russia smile at the European Championships.
In an action-packed match, the genius of the creative midfielder on Tuesday managed to beat Russia 1-0 over Finland and take its first points in the tournament.
All the pessimism brought on by the 3-0 defeat to Belgium on their first appearance in the second set was forgotten, with exhilarating chants of “Ros-i-ya” chanted after the final whistle at St Petersburg Stadium.
Another defeat would have left the Russians on a near-impossible task to advance to the knockout stage, given that their last arc match will be a visit to Denmark on Monday.
Russia equalized Finland with points, which missed an opportunity to secure its presence in the round of 16 in its first major international tournament before that. Their first victory was over Denmark 1-0, a match marked by a chilling fainting from Christian Eriksen.
On the brink of a break, Artem Dzyuba entered the scene by merging with Miranchuk to open the scoring. The thorny striker was the backbone of all of Russia’s payloads. The goal play showed his prowess with his feet, not his passing prowess.
Miranchuk controlled the ball on the edge of the area and cut it to Dzyuba, who cleverly returned his teammate. Miranchuk’s shot first crossed the mark of Finnish defender Daniel O’Shaughnessy and then sent a left-footed shot into the top corner of the far post, making it impossible for goalkeeper Lukas Hradecki to stop.
Encouraged by the 4,000 fans who made the 200-kilometre (125-mile) journey from the border to Saint Petersburg, Finland excelled in the opening pubs, screaming a goal in the third minute. But the referee of the video invalidated the header of Joel Bohjanpalo.
Belgium overshadowed Russia on their debut, but the Finnish midfield – without captain Tim Sparf – proved easier to tame, with Miranchuk and Alexander Golovin firing off.
Russian defender Mario Fernandez has been taken to hospital with an apparent spinal injury after falling on his back during the first half.
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