MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia clinched a place in the 2014 World Cup finals with a 1-1 draw away to Azerbaijan on Tuesday thanks to an early goal from Roman Shirokov that secured top spot in Group F and consigned Portugal to the playoffs.
Fabio Capello’s Russia, who have not reached the World Cup since 2002, led from the 15th minute when Shirokov found himself one-on-one with keeper Kamran Agayev following Alexander Samedov’s through ball.
Shirokov feinted to shoot and as Agayev dropped to one knee the quick-thinking forward steered the ball inside the post.
“Today was a good match. We had numerous moments to excel but at times we were not lucky, at times the goalkeeper played very well. The Azeri team had one chance, and they used it,” Russian wire Itar-Tass quoted Capello as saying.
Azerbaijan had Maksim Medvedev sent off in the 73rd minute after a tackle on Shirokov but managed to equalize when Vagif Javadov headed past Igor Akinfeev in the 90th minute.
However, the visitors, who will host the 2018 World Cup finals, held on to secure a ticket to next year’s tournament in Brazil with 22 points from 10 matches, one point above second-placed Portugal who can still qualify via next month’s playoffs.
The Russians, who dominated the game and would have scored more goals but for Agayev who saved eight attempts on target, were booed and pelted with rubbish at the end of the match at Baku’s 8 KM stadium until the Azeri players signaled for calm.
Reporting by Thomas Grove; editing by Ken Ferris