TRNAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Robert Mak set up a goal and then scored the winner as Slovakia edged Russia 2-1 on Tuesday, ending the Russians’ winning start to World Cup qualifying.
Slovakia took the lead with Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar’s towering header when he was left unmarked to meet Mak’s corner in the 38th.
Russia dominated possession and finally leveled when Mario Fernandes knocked in a rebound in the 71st when goalkeeper Dusan Kuciak could only feebly kick away a deflected shot from Daler Kuzyaev.
It took just three minutes for Slovakia to retake the lead, though. Mak picked up the ball on the left side of the penalty area and moved back and right, evading three defenders, to line up a low right-footed shot past keeper Anton Shunin.
Croatia is level on six points with Russia at the top of Group H after it continued a hesitant recovery from its opening loss to Slovenia, beating Malta 3-0.
Slovakia was in danger of drifting out of World Cup contention after disappointing draws with Cyprus and Malta, but instead stormed back into the race. Slovakia is now in third with five points, one behind the leaders.
CROATIA WINS AGAIN
Croatia got its second win, but it was hard work. It took until the 62nd minute for the 2018 World Cup runners-up to take the lead against Malta. Two substitutes combined for the goal as Ivan Perisic scored off a pass from Borna Barisic, shortly after they had both come on.
Luka Modric extended the lead from the penalty spot and striker Josip Brekalo added a third late on. All six of Croatia’s points have come against the two lowest-ranked teams in the group following a 1-0 win over Cyprus on Saturday.
Slovenia’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup looked bright after beating Croatia last week but now are fading fast after a surprise 1-0 loss to Cyprus on Tuesday.
Cyprus scored against the run of play in the 42nd minute when Ioannis Pittas collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area after a throw-in and beat a defender before shooting low past goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Cyprus defended deep and held on for only its second win in 14 games.
Slovenia started its campaign with an upset win over 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia last week but then lost 2-1 to Russia. It had been trying to regain momentum against Cyprus.
Coach Matjaz Kek led Slovenia to the World Cup for the first and only time in 2010 and returned to the team in 2018. He has overseen a resurgence including promotion to the second tier of the Nations League last year.
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