MOSCOW (AP) — A flurry of second-half goals earned Russia a 3-1 victory over Israel and top spot in World Cup qualifying Group F on Tuesday.
Also in Group F, Luxembourg scored the first victory of its qualifying campaign by coming back to beat Northern Ireland 3-2. Goals from defender Vasiliy Berezutsky, striker Aleksandr Kokorin and midfielder Denis Glushakov turned the game Russia's way, while Eran Zahavi nodded in a consolation goal for Israel in injury time.
Russia dominated the first half but could not penetrate a well-organized Israel defense. Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov came closest to scoring one minute before the break, but his shot from a narrow angle was blocked by Dudu Aouate.
Russia coach Fabio Capello made two substitutions at halftime and the home side soon made the breakthrough. "I wanted to speed up our game in the center of the pitch," Capello said. "We were in control of the ball in the first half but we were not quick enough to create chances."
Berezutsky opened the scoring from inside the box in the 50th minute. Kokorin doubled the lead two minutes later when he latched onto Aleksandr Samedov's cross from the right and fired into the top left corner of the net from 18 meters.
Russia continued to dominate and had several more opportunities before a handball in the area by Zahavi in the 74th. Roman Shirokov hit the right post from the penalty spot but Denis Glushakov was first to snap up the rebound and fire into an empty net.
Though the home side was in control, Zahavi headed in his goal after a rapid counterattack in injury time. "I'm satisfied with the result and the way we played," Capello said. "We played really good in the second half."
Russia leads the standings with 18 points from eight games. Portugal, which did not play on Tuesday, is one point behind. Israel is third with 12 points, followed by Northern Ireland and Luxembourg, fourth with six points each.
At Luxembourg, Martin Paterson collected Steven Davis' pass and broke through the defence to open the scoring for the visitors at 14th minute. Aurelien Joachim equalized for Luxembourg just before halftime when his shot deflected off Daniel Lafferty.
Stefano Bensi put Luxembourg in the lead for the first time in qualifying for Brazil when he run away from the Northern Irish midfield and fired a low drive into the bottom corner from 25 meters in the 78th. Although, Gareth McAuley levelled the game at 2-2 four minutes later.
Mathias Jaenisch fired home the winner after a goalmouth scramble in the 87th minute to secure the win over Michael O'Neill's side. Russia, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, will finish its qualifying campaign with away games against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, while Portugal will host Israel and then Luxembourg in October.