The 2017 Confederations Cup got off to a strong start for hosts Russia as they held much of the possession and soundly defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the tournament opener.
Russia ended the game with 62% of the possession and it felt like much more. They also out-shot New Zealand 16-6 (7-1 in shots on target).
The hosts poured on the pressure in the early going. Just six minutes in, a corner swung in and defender Viktor Vasin got his head to it, but he hit the inside of the post and failed to go in before Michael McGlinchy cleared it off the line. Three minutes later New Zealand needed yet another goal-line clearance as Dmitry Poloz chested down a cross and touched it awkwardly past goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, but Tommy Smith was there to boot away the slow-roller.
On 15 minutes, Russia went direct and dropped in a long-ball for Poloz who got behind the defense, but Marinovic came off his line to clear the ball. The 2017 Confederations Cup does sport video assistant referees who were on hand to review the penalty shout as play continued, but they chose not to pull it back despite some contact.
With the game slowing past the half-hour mark, pressure in the attacking half by Russia forced a bad giveaway from New Zealand, and a brilliant touch by Poloz sprung Denis Glushakov who poked the ball over Marinovic and it trickled in off the post with defenders giving chase to put the hosts up 1-0. Michael Boxall, one of the charging defenders, was credited with the own-goal as it glanced off his knee after coming off the post.
The first half ended without any further incident, and the second half begun in a similar fashion up to the hour mark. With 20 minutes remaining and Russia again on top, Aleksandr Samedov crossed low from the right, and when Boxall whiffed with the chance to clear the dangerous ball, it fell to Fedor Smolov at the far post who had the simplest of tap-ins to double the lead.
Despite the deficit, New Zealand wasn’t done as they looked for a way back in. Ryan Thomas ripped an absolute howitzer towards the top-right corner in the 77th minute, but it was saved by Igor Akinfeev. On the ensuing corner Smith had a free header on net, but veteran Yuri Zhirkov cleared off the line while manning the far post.
The clock eventually wound down with no further danger, and Russia secured the first three points of the tournament, sending them to the top of Group A with Mexico and Portugal still to play on Sunday.