MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia clinched a hard-fought 2-1 home win against Slovenia in the first leg of their 2010 World Cup qualifying play-off clash here on Saturday.
Everton midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov scored twice for Guus Hiddink's side, but Nejc Pecnik's goal two minutes from time gave Slovenia hope that they can make sure of a first World Cup appearance in Wednesday's return leg.
However, Russia coach Guus Hiddink said he was confident his team would make the finals in South Africa.
"It's always disappointing when you allow your rivals to score a goal at the very end but we can only blame only ourselves for it," said the Dutchman.
"We had plenty of chances to increase our lead but missed them, while Slovenia converted one of their rare chances into a goal.
"But I believe we will score in the away match and clinch a place in the World Cup finals."
Chelsea winger Yury Zhikrov created the first scoring chance for Russia in the 14th minute but after fine approach work, his shot was saved by the legs of Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Slovenia replied with a close-range shot by Zlatko Dedic whose sharp-angled attempt went slightly wide.
In the 32nd minute, Handanovic saved again when he parried Sergei Ignashevic's powerful 28-metre freekick.
But in the 40th minute he was unable to prevent the Russian opener.
Bilyaletdinov received a pass from Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko on the edge of the box before turning past two defenders to fire into the top right-handed corner.
After the interval Russia, spurred on by a capacity 70,000 home crowd, kept up the pressure and Bilyaletdinov made it 2-0 in the 51st minute, scoring from eight metres after Andrei Arshavin's short cross.
Russia, under the watchful gaze of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, were stunned in the 88th minute when Pecnik headed home after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev could only parry Robert Koren's powerful shot from the edge of the box.
Defender Marko Suler could have scored a second for Slovenia in injury time, but Akinfeyev stopped his close-range attempt.
Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said he was disappointed with the result but added his team still had a great chances to qualify for the finals.
"I'm unhappy with the result but it's better to be wounded than dead," Kek said.
"This defeat leaves us chances to qualify for the finals. The last minutes tonight proved we still have spirit to win. I'm confident that at home we will have luck on our side."
|D. Bilyaletdinov||40' 52'|
|Coach: G. Hiddink|
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