Artem Dzyuba scored both goals for Russia in a 2-1 victory over Slovenia to close in on Russia’s result.
The victory over a crowd of more than 10,000 – allowed amid a coronavirus pandemic under competition rules and Russian law – kept Russia at the top of Group H as it recovered from the disastrous end of its League of Nations campaign last year.
Slovenia’s momentum came to a head after its upset victory over Croatia on Wednesday.
When he opened the scoring in the 26th minute, Dzyuba initially intended to set up his teammate Daler Kuzyaev with a soft header, but got the ball back when Kuzyaev was blocked by the defense. Dziuba took Kuzyaev’s pass and hit the ball low past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Dzuba scored again nine minutes later, showing his strength and control to rebound and beat Oblak after Alexander Golovin’s initial shot deflected onto the crossbar. This led Dzyuba to 29 goals for Russia, which is slightly less than the record held by Alexander Kerzhakov for Russian goals after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Slovenia beat Russia for a place in the 2010 World Cup in their last match 12 years ago and briefly threatened to break out again when Josip Ilicic responded to Juba’s second goal with a first rebound that left no chance for goalkeeper Anton Shunin.
Ilicic had a good chance to equalize in the 67th, but blocked his shot and hit the ball straight into Shunin.
Croatia host Cyprus later Saturday in Group H, and Slovakia play Malta.