Russia fight back to snatch late draw with Belgium
(Reuters) - Alexander Bukharov scored a stoppage-time equaliser as World Cup hosts Russia came from two goals down at halftime to hold Belgium to a 3-3 draw in a friendly in Sochi on Tuesday.
Russia opened the scoring in the third minute through Viktor Vasin, but Kevin Mirallas levelled for Belgium from the penalty spot and Christian Benteke scored twice to give the visitors a commanding advantage at halftime.
Russia pulled one back 15 minutes from the end through substitute Aleksey Miranchuk and then snatched a morale-boosting equaliser.
It was a much-improved performance from Russia, whose recent results were sounding increasingly loud alarm bells ahead of next year’s tournament.
Russia were beaten 2-0 by Ivory Coast in Krasnodar on Friday but will draw some heart from Tuesday's comeback, even if it was against an under-strength Belgium side without regulars like Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who made a cameo appearance near the end.
Benteke proved an adequate replacement in attack as he won the penalty that led to the equaliser, powering his way into the Russian penalty box before Roman Neustadter brought him down.
Mirallas hit a poor penalty but Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev dived right over the top of it.
Neustadter was also involved in the opening goal when he played a pass back into the danger area from a poorly cleared free kick for Vasin to tap home from close range.
Belgium went ahead in the 42nd minute from a corner as Neustadter cleared Jan Vertonghen's goal-bound header straight at Benteke, who was left with a simple finish.
Benteke headed in an in-swinging free kick from Nacer Chadli to hand Belgium a two-goal advantage on the stroke of halftime.
A host of second-half substitutions took the momentum out of the game before Russia capitalised on sloppy midfield play by the visitors and quickly countered.
Miranchuk then played a one-two with fellow substitute Bukharov before steering the ball into the net.
Bukharov then snatched a draw with an opportunistic finish just minutes before the final whistle.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis)