ST PETERSBURG: Aleksei Miranchuk scored the only goal as Russia started the second round of group matches with a 1-0 win against neighbouring tournament new boys Finland.
Atalanta forward Miranchuk’s decisive strike came in first-half stoppage time and victory followed Saturday’s opening 3-0 Group B defeat to Belgium.
Finland had upset Denmark 1-0 in their opening game, in a match overshadowed by Christian Eriksen’s collapse, but, although they improved in the second half against Russia, they failed to seriously trouble Stanislav Cherchesov’s side.
Russia will be relieved to be up and running – they also extended their unbeaten record against the Finns to 18 matches – but they were far from convincing in a game which was low on quality.
The Finns’ white wall was breached by the game’s first shot on target in the second minute of added time at the end of the first half.
Miranchuk played a one-two with skipper Dzyuba just inside the box and dinked a curling left-footed finish into goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky’s top right-hand corner.
In the second half Finland lacked a cutting edge to cash in on their increased possession and Russia comfortably saw the game out.
Both sides can still progress to the round of 16. Russia will play Denmark in their final group game on Monday and Finland face Belgium.
Stanislav Cherchesov, Russia coach: “The players were a real team today. They fulfilled what they had to do and got the win. The formation I chose, I think, was right. To break down their defence we needed to use the wings and we did. The plan worked.”
Aleksei Miranchuk, Russia midfielder: “Yes, I scored a good goal but it’s not important. What important is that we completed our task, won the game, got the much-needed three points and now we want to build on that.”
Markku Kanerva, Finland coach: “We defended well and going forward we improved on our display against Denmark. We didn’t manage to score but we had good situations: some shots that went narrowly wide, others were blocked. It was a really close game.”
Finland: Hradecky – Toivio (Jensen 85), Arajuuri, D O’Shaughnessy – Schüller (Kauko 67), Kamara – Raitala (Soiri 75), Lod, Uronen – Pukki (Lappalainen 75), Pohjanpalo.
Russia: Safonov – Mário Fernandes (Karavaev 26), Diveev, Dzhikiya, Kuzyaev – Zobnin, Barinov, Ozdoev (Zhemaletdinov 61) – Aleksei Miranchuk (Mukhin 85), Dzyuba (Sobolev 85), Golovin.