Russia eases to Confederations Cup win over New Zealand
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Host nation Russia beat a poor New Zealand team 2-0 on Saturday to open the Confederations Cup with a win that was all but demanded by Vladimir Putin.
Russia's president was in the $750 million new stadium in his native St. Petersburg to see forward Fyodor Smolov's 69th minute goal add to an own goal by New Zealand defender Michael Boxall in the 31st.
Putin this week demanded better results from the 63rd-ranked Russia team and for the players to perform like warriors. They hardly needed to be in dispatching No. 95 New Zealand, which seemed to find the world stage too big.
Russia's win eases the pressure on its second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Moscow on Wednesday. The European champion opens its Group A program on Sunday against Mexico in Kazan.
New Zealand is now without a win in four trips to the Confederations Cup, and next plays Mexico on Wednesday in Sochi.
The Kiwis threatened only with back-to-back chances in the 78th minute: A powerful Ryan Thomas shot saved by Russia captain Igor Akinfeev and Tommy Smith's header blocked on the line.
Russia's opening goal had an ugly finish after two pretty pieces of individual skill once the All-Whites defense needlessly lost the ball.
A chest-high pass to forward Dmitry Poloz was deftly guided into the path of Denis Glushakov who chipped the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic. A three-player race to meet the rebound off a post saw the sliding Boxall's trailing right arm get the final touch in a bundle of bodies.
Russia deserved its first-half lead after twice having shots stopped on the line in the opening 10 minutes.
From Russia's fourth corner, defender Viktor Vasin's header saw the ball spin off a post and across the goalmouth before Michael McGlinchey cleared. Tommy Smith then tidied up when Poloz poked a close-range shot slowly past Marinovic.
In the 69th minute, Russia scored again when Smolov started a move on the halfway line, passed the ball wide to the right to Alexander Samedov and Smolov sprinted in to the penalty area to score from five yards.