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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Russia almost loses its chances of qualifying for the European Championships

Russia's chances of qualifying for the European Championships next year have been dealt a blow after they were beaten 3-0 by England in London. The defeat leaves Guus Hiddink's men in third spot in Group E behind Croatia and England, with three games still to play. The defeat was Russia's first in the competition after eight games, reports.

England took a huge step towards qualifying for Euro 2008 with an impressive 3-0 win over Russia at Wembley last night.

A first-half double from Michael Owen and a late strike from Rio Ferdinand lifted Steve McClaren's side above the Russians and into second place in Group E, making them firm favourites to reach next year's finals alongside group leaders Croatia.

Russia had offered an early warning that they would offer a tougher test than Israel had on Saturday when their captain, Andrey Arshavin, skipped round Ferdinand with ease and forced Gareth Barry - tracking back diligently as he was to do all night - into an important near-post interception.

But McClaren's faith in the line-up that had beaten the Israelis 3-0 was to be rewarded when, with barely six minutes played, Joe Cole's attempted overhead kick forced a flustered Russian defence to concede a corner on the right.

When Barry's inswinging delivery was headed straight back to him, the Aston Villa captain's second chip cleared John Terry and a clutch of defenders at the near post before landing at the feet of a completely unmarked Owen.

The Russian defence then compounded their negligence by allowing the striker enough time time to dig ball out from under his feet and side-foot his finish to the left of the goalkeeper Viacheslav Malafeev. Three minutes later, the Newcastle forward should have been celebrating again.

But, with an open goal beckoning, he slipped as he strained to reach the loose ball after Heskey, played into the box by Gerrard, had been denied at close range by Malafeev.

That let-off appeared to galvanise Guus Hiddink's side into action and it was England's turn to breathe a collective sigh of relief when a mistake by Terry allowed Konstantin Zyryanov to send Arshavin clear inside the box.

Fortunately for England, the Russian captain's first touch was poor and Ashley Cole was able to shepherd him towards the corner flag.

The lively Zyryanov then had a goal disallowed, the Swedish referee Martin Hansson having spotted the use of an arm to control a loose ball deep inside England's penalty box.

England responded through Shaun Wright-Phillips, who stole in behind the Russian back four but headed Joe Cole's cross over the bar.

The Russians continued to look dangerous however and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov drew a full-length save from Paul Robinson before Owen took full advantage of another outburst of shoddy defending to claim his 40th goal in an England shirt, reports.

Source: agencies