MOSCOW, Russia, September 7 – Fabio Capello oversaw his first win since taking over as Russia coach as Northern Ireland were beaten 2-0 in Moscow in their 2014 World Cup qualifying Group F opener on Friday.
Midfield duo Viktor Faizulin and Roman Shirokov, both of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg, got the goals for the hosts at the Lokomotiv Stadium, with the latter netting from the penalty spot.
Capello’s starting line-up included six of the men who took to the field in Russia’s ill-fated final group game of Euro 2012 against Greece, and one of those men, Alexander Kerzhakov, had their first chance.
However, the striker’s shot from just outside the area was saved by Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll.
Defender Gareth McAuley responded at the other end with a header from a corner which went narrowly wide as the midway point in the first half approached.
But Russia were in control and got their reward half an hour in when Kerzhakov cut the ball back for Faizulin to score with a neat finish past an exposed Carroll.
Carroll redeemed himself by saving from Shirokov shortly after, while Kerzhakov’s header from the rebound missed the target.
After the break, Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side pushed forward in search of the equaliser but they failed to seriously test goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and eventually conceded a second inside the final 15 minutes.
Kerzhakov had sounded a warning shot with a free-kick that crashed off the woodwork, before Shirokov converted a penalty after Craig Cathcart fouled substitute Alexander Kokorin inside the area.
Russia’s win was thoroughly deserved, but enthusiasm in Moscow for the start of the Capello era appeared rather thin on the ground judging by the vast swathes of empty seats inside the near-30,000 capacity stadium.
Russia, who have not reached a World Cup finals since 2002, now travel to Israel on Tuesday, while Northern Ireland will expect to collect their first points at home to Luxembourg.
Meanwhile, Former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp made a surprise return to the game on Friday after accepting an advisory role at League One club Bournemouth.
Redknapp was sacked by Spurs at the end of last season after falling out with chairman Daniel Levy and has been linked with several managerial jobs since then including his former club Southampton and the Russia national team post.
But the 65-year-old, who led Spurs to a fourth place finish in the Premier League last season, has been tempted back to work by a less glamourous position as an advisor to another of his old clubs.
Redknapp began his managerial career with Bournemouth in 1983, helping them escape relegation from the Football League in his first season before masterminding a shock FA Cup win over holders Manchester United in 1984.
He also won the old Third Division title in 1986-87 and the former West Ham boss has jumped at the opportunity to help out one of his local clubs — Redknapp lives nearby in the exclusive Sandbanks area — on a temporary basis.
Redknapp, who has agreed to act as a sounding board for manager Paul Groves and his staff, will travel with the squad to Saturday’s League One clash with Yeovil at Huish Park.
He has not signed a contract and will not be paid, citing his passion for the game as the reason behind his return.
“It keeps me involved. I enjoy watching football and if I wasn’t playing golf, I’d be sitting around,” Redknapp told Sky Sports News.