Russia 3 Belgium 3: Bukarov spares hosts' blushes

By Alex Fisher 29 March 2017 253
Russia 3 Belgium 3: Bukarov spares hosts' blushes

Aleksandr Bukharov rescued a draw for 2018 World Cup hosts Russia as they held a Christian Benteke-inspired Belgium 3-3 on Tuesday.

Bukharov looked to have missed his chance as he wasted two glorious opportunities in the closing stages, but the Rostov striker scored in stoppage time to deny Roberto Martinez's men a fifth win in seven games.

Viktor Vasin's early strike had given Stanislav Cherchesov's side a lift in the first match at a refitted Fisht Stadium in Sochi and Bukharov's late, late show ensured they avoided a fourth defeat in five matches.

A poor challenge from Roman Neustadter gave Kevin Mirallas Belgium's equaliser from the penalty spot, before lax marking allowed Benteke to take his international tally to 12 goals before the break.

Aleksey Miranchuk gave Russia belief with his first goal since June 2015, and Bukharov ensured the hosts left with their morale boosted.

Russia will hope their fortunes continue to improve when they meet Hungary and Chile before the Confederations Cup in June, while Belgium are top of their group in World Cup qualifying and look set to join their hosts at the finals.

After their disappointing 2-0 defeat to Ivory Coast on Friday, Russia were quick out of the blocks and they were rewarded with the game's opening goal after three minutes.

Thomas Vermaelen hauled down Dmitriy Poloz on the edge of the penalty area and, from the resulting free-kick, Aleksandr Semedov fired across goal for Vasin to poke home from six yards.

Belgium - without the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne - responded superbly to going behind and were gifted an equaliser thanks to a clumsy challenge from Neustadter on Benteke in the box, allowing Mirallas to convert from 12 yards.

Buoyed by their goal, the visitors continued to push. Mirallas and Toby Alderweireld fired over, before Benteke struck twice in quick succession to earn Belgium a 3-1 lead going into the break.

First, Benteke reacted smartly to nod home after Dmitri Kombarov cleared Jan Vertonghen's effort out of Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's arms and straight onto the striker's head, which was again put to good use three minutes later to convert a pinpoint delivery from Nacer Chadli.

A fourth goal to kill the game should have come for the visitors but their final ball lacked quality as chances for Benteke and Alderweireld both failed to stretch Akinfeev.

Russia's best chances came on the counter-attack and they grabbed a lifeline with 16 minutes remaining through Miranchuk, the substitute sliding home following a break from Bukharov. 

Samedov and Bukharov both wasted great chances for an equaliser but the latter made no mistake in stoppage time as he salvaged a draw with a low shot that crept under Simon Mignolet.

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Alex Fisher