Euro 2008: Russia beaten by Owen
England leapfrogged Russia in the race for a Euro 2008 qualifying place, moving from third to second with a 3-0 victory against Guus Hiddink`s young Russian side.
The game, which kicked off at 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. Moscow time) began at an unexpectedly furious tempo, and not all the 90,000 spectators had taken their seats when Michael Owen put the hosts 1-0 up, hammering in a shot after Russia had failed to clear a free-kick. The goal was the Newcastle striker`s fourth in as many games.
The match came at a time of increasing political tension between Britain and Russia, with an ongoing extradition row, and pressure on British oil companies from Russian regulators. During a round of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in July, President Putin said "Britain forgets it is no longer a colonial power and that Russia was never its colony."
However, Russian and English fans mixed peacefully in the streets of the capital before the game, and no violence was reported. There were around 6,000 Russian fans at the match, although many more watched the game in pubs across the capital.
Russia had their chances to get back in the game, having a goal harshly disallowed for handball in the 19th minute, but the game was as good as dead when Owen volleyed in his second in the 31st minute. Prior to the match against England, Russia had only conceded one goal in eight qualifying games.
The second-half saw Russia stir, and the Russian fans in the stands could have been forgiven for dreaming of a most unlikely comeback, but it was not to be. With six minutes remaining on the clock, Rio Ferdinand showed a touch of skill most unbecoming of a defender to slip the ball past Vyacheslav Malafeev in the Russian goal.
"England are now ahead, but the decision is not yet made," a UEFA website reported Guus Hiddink as saying after the match. "We have got them in Moscow in October and they have got to face Croatia as well, but it`s tight. It will be decided at the end, not in September."
Indeed, Russia`s fate is still very much in their hands. Victory in their remaining three games - at home to England, away to Israel, and away to Andorra -will see them on their way to the final stages of Euro 2008, to be held in Austria and Switzerland next summer.
However, a day after Russia announced that it had created the world`s most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the shape of the thermobaric bomb, it was England`s own weapon of mass destruction, Michael Owen, who had the last word, wreaking havoc in the Russian defense.
Owen now has 40 goals for England, and only needs nine more to equal Sir Bobby Charlton`s record. "I never wrote him off, I always knew he was going to be important for us," the England manager, Steve McClaren said after the match.