Russia beat Malta 3-1 on Wednesday, ending a six-match winless streak, to kick off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. Captain Artyom Dzyuba opened the scoring in the 23rd minute of the Group H match at Malta’s Ta’Qali National Stadium with a low drive from the center of the box.
Brazilian-born Mario Fernandes put Russia up 2-0 at halftime with a drive from the right side of the box that breezed under Maltese goalkeeper Henry Bonello’s left arm in the 35th minute. Substitute Alexander Sobolev added another goal in the final minutes of the match.
Malta’s Joseph Mbong had narrowed Russia’s lead in the 56th minute by beating goalkeeper Anton Shunin with a strike under the crossbar.
Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup, next face Slovenia on Saturday while Malta will take on Slovakia.
If they qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Russia will compete without their flag or anthem as part of a punishment for Moscow providing doctored laboratory data to international anti-doping authorities.
After a long wait, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers finally kicked off in the UEFA and Concacaf zones on Wednesday. There were some surprising scorelines in Europe, with France held 1-1 at home by Ukraine, Croatia losing to Slovenia, and Turkey outgunning three-time World Cup runners-up the Netherlands. There were also important wins for Serbia and Belgium.
Portugal 1-0 Azerbaijan
- A 36th-minute own-goal proved enough for Portugal to beat Azerbaijan. Only an excellent performance from Shahruddin Mahammadaliyev kept the visitors in the game in the first half, with Cristiano Ronaldo denied on multiple occasions. Azerbaijan delivered a spirited second-half performance, giving their opponents a couple of scares on the counter-attack. Portugal extended their record winning streak in World Cup qualifiers to ten games.
Serbia 3-2 Republic of Ireland
- The Irish, without a goal in their last seven matches, ended that drought through Alan Browne’stowering back-post header. Dusan Vlahovic leveled for the hosts with a smart left-foot finish into the bottom-right corner before substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic put them ahead with a glorious chip from 30 yards. Mitrovic then completed the turnaround with a soaring leap and header to become his country’s joint all-time leading scorer, with James Collins’ scrappy late effort a mere consolation for the visitors.
France 1-1 Ukraine
- Antoine Griezmanncurled in a beautiful goal to open the scoring, moving him to level with David Trezeguet in joint-fourth in the list of France’s all-time scorers on 34 goals behind leader Thierry Henry, Olivier Giroud, and Michel Platini. Serhii Sydorchuk equalized for Ukraine after his shot just inside the penalty area took a massive deflection off Presnel Kimpembe before nestling into the corner of the net.
Finland 2-2 Bosnia and Herzegovina
- After a goalless first half, the match burst into life in the second with Bosnia’s star man Miralem Pjanictucking away a close-range effort after Finland goalkeeper Jesse Joronen saved his initial penalty kick. However, Finland’s star striker Teemu Pukki replied soon after, reacting after a shot hit off the crossbar. Pukki then completed his brace, finishing off a counter-attack for the Finns by calmly slotting past Ibrahim Sehic, before Miroslav Stevanovic equalized for the visitors.
Belgium 3-1 Wales
- Wales took a shock lead when Gareth Bale split the Belgium defense with a gorgeous through-ball for Harry Wilson, who slotted home. Belgium responded admirably though, with a fine Kevin De Bruynestrike and a Thorgan Hazard header putting them in front. Romelu Lukaku extended the advantage from the spot in the 73rd minute.
Estonia 2-6 Czech Republic
- A 16-minute Tomas Soucekhat-trick powered the Czech Republic to a 6-1 win in Estonia. The West Ham United midfielder went into the game having scored just four times in 30 caps. In-form Bayer Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick continued a goal and two assists.
Turkey 4-2 Netherlands
- Hosts Turkey took a 15th-minute lead when Burak Yilmaz’stoe-poke flashed past Tim Krul via a cruel deflection off Mathijs de Light. The Netherlands pushed hard for an equalizer but were once again caught out on the break, with Yilmaz doubling his tally from the penalty spot, wrong-footing Krul after Donyell Malen had been penalized for a clumsy late challenge. Hakan Calhanoglu stunned Frank de Boer’s team with a third within seconds of the restart, firing a low 25-yard shot beyond the flat-footed Krul. Just as the Dutch appeared to be running out of ideas, substitute Davy Klaasen pulled a goal back with a superb turn and finish and, seconds later, Luuk de Jong scrambled the ball home from close range. But Yilmaz completed his first international hat-trick – and settled Turkish nerves – with a glorious free-kick, whipped into the top-right corner from 20 yards.
Gibraltar 0-3 Norway
- Norway cruised to a 3-0 win away to Gibraltar. Alexander Sorloth, Kristian Thorstvedtand Jonas Svensson got the goals. Only a brilliant performance from goalkeeper Dale Cooling prevented a bigger defeat for the hosts. Norway has won four of their last five World Cup preliminaries, all without conceding.
Latvia 1-2 Montenegro
- A stunning opener for the hosts saw Janis Ikauniekslash home a left-foot volley, but Stevan Jovetic poked Montenegro level seconds later. Jovetic then settled the outcome with a glorious second as the clock ticked down, dribbling across the field before curling a 20-yard shot in off the underside of the crossbar.
Slovenia 1-0 Croatia
- Sandi Lovricwas the hosts’ hero, scoring to secure Slovenia a shock victory against the 2018 World Cup finalists in Ljubljana.
Malta 1-3 Russia
- The 2018 World Cup hosts got their 2022 qualifying campaign underway with goals from frontman Artem Dzyubaand right-back Mario Fernandes. Dzyuba turned provider for the second, with each effort squeezing past Maltese goalkeeper Henry Bonello. Joseph Mbong got one back for the hosts, scoring his first international goal in some style by thundering a shot past Anton Shunin from an acute angle. But Alexander Sobolev sealed the victory for Stanislav Cherchesov’s side just minutes after coming off the bench, with his shot proving too powerful for Bonello.
Cyprus 0-0 Slovakia
- The night’s only goalless game in Europe saw visitors Slovakia dominate possession but their Cypriot hosts carve out arguably the better of the chances. A point apiece was ultimately a fair outcome.
Guatemala 1-0 Cuba
- A gritty victory for Guatemala over visiting Cuba thanks to Luiz Martinez’s goal approaching the hour mark. The win gives the Guatemalans a strong opening platform ahead of the other Group C match tomorrow between Curacao and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Dominican Republic 1-0 Dominica
- A lone strike just after half-time from Fran Nunezproved enough for the Dominican Republic to edge victory over Caribbean neighbors Dominica and collect three important points. It is the first World Cup win for Los Quisqueyanos since their strong Brazil 2014 campaign.
St Kitts and Nevis 1-0 Puerto Rico
- Viceroy Nelson‘s goal towards the end of the first half proved to be the difference in San Cristobal. They now have four wins in 11 World Cup qualifying matches, meaning they have only lost two of their last 11 since the start of the 2014 qualifying campaign. It is also St Kitts and Nevis’ fourth clean sheet in their last five meetings with Puerto Rico in all competitions.
Antigua and Barbuda 2-2 Montserrat
- Montserrat (183) grabbed a crucial point against Antigua and Barbuda (126), who is ranked 57 places above their opponents in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Lyle Taylor was the hero of the day for Montserrat, bagging both goals in the first half, while Eugene Kirwan and D’Andre Bishop scored the goals for the hosts.
Suriname 3-0 Cayman Islands
- Suriname proved to be too strong for Ben Pugh and his side in the end. Goals from Shaquille Pinas, Ryan Donk (penalty), and Gleofilo Vlijter saw Dean Gorre’s charges put three points on the board as they opened proceedings in Group B with a victory in Paramaribo.
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