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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Russia beats England 2-1 in Euro 2008 qualifying

England wasted a second-half lead, putting its European Championship qualifying chances in jeopardy with a 2-1 loss to Russia on Wednesday night.

England would have clinched a berth with a victory. Instead, it is in danger of missing soccer's No. 2 tournament behind the World Cup.

"We ended up losing a game where after 70 minutes, I never thought we'd lose," England coach Steve McClaren said. "We had it. It was in our grasp, and we ended up losing it."

Wayne Rooney put England ahead in the 29th minute off a pass from Michael Owen on the artificial turf of Luzhniki Stadium. Steven Gerrard wasted a chance to put England ahead 2-0 in the 51st minute when he shot wide while unmarked close to goal.

"I can't believe it is out of our hands," Gerrard said. "You start believing you are nearly there, that you have got one foot there, but football is a cruel game and chances and decisions and mistakes turn football matches. For England not to make the finals will be unthinkable."

Roman Pavlyuchenko, who entered in the 58th minute, tied the score with a disputed penalty kick in the 69th after Rooney brought down Konstantin Zyryanov. Replays appeared to show Rooney's foul occurred outside the penalty area.

"It's an absolute disgrace. It's outside the box," McClaren said. "The linesman didn't give it. It was the referee from a distance. Things like that turn games."

Pavlyuchenko scored the go-ahead goal four minutes later after getting between Sol Campbell and Joleon Lescott, then tapping in the rebound after goalkeeper Paul Robinson pushed away an attempt from Alexei Berezutskiy.

Croatia (8-0-2) leads Group E with 26 points and England (7-2-2) is second with 23. Russia (6-1-3) is third with 21 but has two games left to one for the English.

Russia would advance if it wins at Israel on Nov. 17 and at Andorra on Nov. 21.

"We have a perfect chance now," Pavlyuchenko said. "All is now in our hands. We must beat Israel — it will be the key match."

Midfielder David Beckham, coming back from a knee injury, hopes to return for England's final qualifier, at Wembley against Croatia on Nov. 21.

Only the top two team in each group advance to next year's 16-nation tournament in Austria and Switzerland, the AP reports.

Hiddink's Russia were nothing special and, after the 70,000 Russians in the Luzhniki Stadium had tired themselves out singing in the first frantic 20 minutes, their team did not look capable of opening England up. Small errors crept into the Russian side, embarrassing misplaced passes that seemed to tell you that this was a team which could be simply contained. Until the 69th minute that was exactly what England were doing.

Gareth Barry in front of the defence and Sol Campbell at its centre were outstanding before the collapse, yet nothing could rescue England once they started to fall apart. On 29 minutes it had looked so different, Micah Richards' high ball forward was improbably flicked on by Michael Owen before Rooney – possibly offside – hit a volley of raw power from just inside the area into the Russia net.

It was England's game for the taking and, comfortably in control, McClaren must have thought that his gamble on sticking with a 4-4-2 formation was the right call. He resisted the temptation to send on Frank Lampard and change England to a 4-3-3/ 4-5-1 system. Had either Gerrard or Richards converted the chances that fell their way, the Football Association would not be thinking about the imminent and uncomfortable possibility of replacing their manager.

Seven minutes before Pavlyuchenko came on as a substitute, Gerrard missed an extraordinary chance. Barry's free-kick from the right found the Liverpool captain completely unmarked at the back post, although strangely he never looked like he would score. Perhaps he thought he was offside in the moments before he dragged his shot wide. Five minutes later, from Gerrard's free-kick, Rooney flicked the ball on, Richards lunged and failed to make contact at the back post.

Sensing a reprieve, the Russian fans forgot about Mexican waves and turned their attention back to the football. On 69 minutes Rooney chased Konstantin Zyryanov down the left wing and, as they came together, the Russian went down. He had made contact with Rooney's arm but not decisively and the clash took place just outside the area. Pavlyuchenko slotted home the penalty and Russia never looked back.

Four minutes later, Lescott gave Alexei Berezutsky room to shoot and Robinson failed to direct the ball away from the danger area. The boot of Pavlyuchenko did the rest. Crouch, Lampard and Stewart Downing came on seven minutes later with none of the urgency from McClaren you might have expected. By then, England were chasing shadows. Their future comes down to Russia's visit to Israel on 17 November, although it seems unlikely Hiddink's team will blow it now. That sort of disaster seems solely the preserve of the English, the Independent reports.

Source: agencies

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