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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Overpowers Ireland 4-2

APRobbie Keane, left, holding off Andrei Solomatin, center, and Onopko on Saturday.
Russia made a flying start to its Euro 2004 qualifying campaign with an impressive 4-2 victory over main Group 10 rival Ireland at Lokomotiv Stadium on Saturday.

As thick smog descended on the superb new arena near Cherkizovskaya metro station, first-half goals from Andrei Karyaka and Vladimir Beschastnykh, a second-half header from Alexander Kerzhakov and an own goal by Ireland's Phil Babb lifted some of the gloom that has surrounded the national team since its dismal showing at the World Cup. Ireland responded with goals from Gary Doherty and Clinton Morrison to make it 2-1 and then 3-2, but Russia held firm during an exciting final 25 minutes to complete a deserved win and take charge of the qualifying group.

Russia's committed, industrious performance delighted the near-capacity crowd and gave Valery Gazzayev the kind of start he was looking for in his first competitive match as national coach.

"It was a great victory for Russian soccer," Gazzayev said after the match. "You just witnessed the birth of a new team."

The only sour note came before the game, when more than 100 Russian and Irish fans clashed in the center of town. Interfax reported that at least 12 visiting fans were injured in the fighting, with three Irish supporters and one Dutch fan taken to the hospital. Police said at least six Russian fans were arrested.

More than 2,000 police and Interior Ministry troops were deployed outside the stadium, but there was little or no trouble for them to deal with.

After some over-the-top theatrics before kickoff -- in which a soprano belted out the Russian national anthem and the Russian players turned away from the Irish team to face a huge flag unfurled from the east stand -- Russia began strongly, almost taking the lead in the first minute. From a corner, veteran Viktor Onopko bundled the ball toward the goal, forcing a fine reaction save from Irish goalkeeper Shay Given.

Both sides struggled to impose themselves after that, but Russia eventually broke the deadlock in the 20th minute. Defender Gennady Nizhegorodov hit a hopeful pass down the inside-left channel toward the onrushing Karyaka. The Samara midfielder took the ball in his stride, cut inside right-back Steve Finnan and stroked a firm shot past Given.

In the 24th minute, Russia increased its lead. With Ireland's defense practically waving him on, Lokomotiv's Dmitry Loskov advanced to the edge of the Irish penalty area, from where he should have pulled the trigger but instead slipped the ball left to Beschastnykh, who curled a first-time shot over Given into the corner of the net.

After Russia's double strike, the game lost momentum until Doherty sparked it into life in the 68th minute. Newly on as substitute for Jason McAteer, the big Spurs striker met a corner with a powerful header past the pony-tailed Russian keeper Sergei Ovchinnikov.

Russia replied straight from the kickoff. After some good work on the left, Karyaka swung a low cross toward Kerzhakov, who planted a stooping header past Given.

Ireland came back again in the 74th minute. This time, Matt Holland lifted the ball forward to Finnan, who hooked the ball from the right side of the penalty area toward Morrison in the middle. The ball fell slightly behind the young Birmingham City forward, but he took a touch, steadied himself and picked his spot.

Ireland pressed hard for an equalizer but in doing so left big gaps for the Russians to exploit on the counterattack. After substitute Babb lost the ball on the halfway line, Kerzhakov was sent scampering on a free run toward the goal in the 86th minute. Given saved well from the Zenit St. Petersburg marksman, but the ball rebounded against the chasing Babb and bobbled into the net.

"We came here trying to win the game ? but we conceded two early goals and that was a big disappointment," Irish coach Mick McCarthy said after the game. "I would expect to win a game scoring two goals away from home, but we put ourselves in a hole early."