Artem Dzyuba scored both of Russia’s goals in a 2-1 win over Slovenia to close in on the Russia scoring record.
The win in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 — allowed amid the coronavirus pandemic under competition rules and Russian law — kept Russia at the top of Group H as it rebuilds following a disastrous end to its Nations League campaign last year.
Slovenia’s momentum stalled after its upset win over Croatia on Wednesday.
When he opened the scoring in the 26th minute, Dzyuba initially intended to set up teammate Daler Kuzyaev with a cushioned header, but he got the ball back when Kuzyaev found himself blocked in by the defense. Dzyuba picked up Kuzyaev’s pass and hit the ball low past goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s outstretched hand.
Dzyuba scored again nine minutes later, showing his strength and control to collect a rebound and beat Oblak after Alexander Golovin’s initial shot had deflected onto the bar. That took Dzyuba to 29 goals for Russia, one short of the record held by Alexander Kerzhakov for Russia goals since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Slovenia beat Russia for a place at the 2010 World Cup in their last meeting 12 years ago and briefly threatened to pull off another upset when Josip Ilicic responded to Dzyuba’s second goal with a first-time shot on the bounce which left goalkeeper Anton Shunin no chance.
Ilicic had a good chance to equalize in the 67th but mistimed his shot and hit the ball straight at Shunin.
Croatia hosts Cyprus later Saturday in Group H and Slovakia plays Malta.