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When Russia stunned England at the Luzhniki

  • Ten years ago today, Russia won one of the most memorable matches in their history against England
  • Scorer of both goals Roman Pavlyuchenko tells the story of the game
  • The striker is confident that Russia 2018 will be “the best tournament in history”

The iconic Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow has seen a lot over the years, playing host to the 1980 Summer Olympics, the 1999 UEFA Cup Final and the 2008 Champions League Final to name a few. However, for many Russia fans, the stadium is best remembered for one of the most remarkable victories in the country’s footballing history: on 17 October 2017, the Sbornaya defeated England 2-1 in a vital qualification match for UEFA EURO 2008.

On the ten-year anniversary of the fixture, FIFA.com revisits the most memorable moments from that historic encounter at the Luzhniki, which is hosting the Opening Match and Final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ next summer.

The birth of a new team
Only three points against the Three Lions would keep Russia’s chances alive for a spot at the EURO in Austria and Switzerland and after conceding to Wayne Rooney early in the first half, Guus Hiddink’s side seemed on the verge of missing out. It fell to one of the Dutchman’s substitutes to change the course of the game: Roman Pavlyuchenko came on for the second half and scored a quick-fire brace within the space of four minutes, handing his country a vital win. Those two goals from the big forward were essentially the starting point for the most successful European Championship in Russia’s history.

“Maybe that evening witnessed the birth of the team that went on to finish third at EURO 2008,” said Pavlyuchenko. “These victories help you build confidence in yourself, although after Rooney’s early strike I wasn’t really banking on a positive outcome. I remember turning to my team-mates on the subs’ bench and saying, ‘I reckon they’ll score another three before the break.'”

As it turned out, the then Spartak Moscow striker’s prediction was way off the mark. Russia not only managed to hold on until half-time, they also started to seriously up the pressure in the second half.

“We simply couldn’t lose that day, the support at the Luzhniki was just crazy,” continued Pavlyuchenko, who turns 36 in December. “I had never played in front of 85,000 people before then and the roar was deafening. As I was coming on, I said to myself. ‘Imagine scoring two now. It’d be great for the team and I’d be on cloud nine.'”

Roman delivered on his promise within 15 minutes of being on the pitch: first he equalised from the penalty spot and then he bundled home the rebound after a shot from Alexei Berezutsky.

“I wasn’t supposed to take the penalty,” admitted Pavlyuchenko, who brought the curtains down on his international career in 2013. “Hiddink had named someone else as the penalty-taker, but I was convinced I would score. The Luzhniki was packed to the rafters, there were millions more watching on television – I tried not to think what would happen if I missed. I chose a corner, calmly ran up and scored. I will remember that game for the rest of my life, the emotions were incredible. It was after the win against England that I started to realise I was becoming a great footballer.”


Making it up to Hiddink with goals
Russia secured their spot at UEFA EURO 2008 shortly after beating England and produced their best football in recent history at the finals in Austria and Switzerland. Some of the Sbornaya’s star players, including Pavlyuchenko himself, earned themselves big moves to English clubs on the back of that tournament. It could so easily not have happened, if Hiddink had not sent the tall striker on at the Luzhniki on 17 October 2007. 

“Two days before the match against England, Pavlyuchenko left the team hotel without permission to get a coffee,” recalled Hiddink, who coached the Russian national team from 2006 to 2010. “I was advised to send him home, but I wasn’t going to do that. It was just a cup of coffee with a girl. I told Roman that he shouldn’t have left without my permission and he apologised, so I replied, ‘Leave your apologies for the game.’ He came on and scored two goals. It was one of the top two performances from Russia under my leadership.”

Roman Pavlyuchenko cannot say whether there will be more historic displays from his country at Russia 2018 but he is sure of one thing:

“It will be the best tournament in history,” he said. “Everyone is going to enjoy it.”

Updated: October 17, 2017 — 11:23 am
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