Russia's Igor Semshov celebrates breaking the deadlock against Wales
By Bruce Pope
Russia edged an action-packed World Cup qualifying encounter against a youthful Wales side at the Millennium Stadium.
Igor Semshov gave the visitors the lead in Cardiff late in the first half after being set free by Andrei Arshavin.
Wales were back on level terms thanks to James Collins as the defender turned in Aaron Ramsey's near-post corner.
But a low Sergei Ignashevich free-kick and Roman Pavlyuchenko's injury-time third, from a defensive blunder, ended Wales' last faint qualification hopes.
With Group Four leaders Germany also winning on Wednesday evening, brushing aside Azerbaijan 4-0, it is they and Russia - a point behind the Germans on 21 - who are in pole position to reach the finals in South Africa.
Wales' performance, if not the result, offered some salve to the home defeat in front of a disappointing crowd of 14,505.
There was also hope with Finland being held 1-1 away to bottom side Liechtenstein that Wales can still overhaul the Finns for third place and earn a better draw for future qualifying campaigns.
Wales are five points behind Finland but their next group game is against those opponents in Helsinki on 10 October.
The home side had started brightly in Cardiff and it took just five minutes for Collins to record Wales' first attempt on target.
Unfortunately for John Toshack's side the big defender, who had stayed up after a corner, was unable to get much power on his back-post header and Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev collected comfortably.
Then a minute later Wales debutant Brian Stock collected a loose ball 25 yards from goal on the right and the Doncaster Rovers midfielder fizzed a rising shot across the face of goal.
Inevitably Russia got their slick passing game going and Alexander Kerzhakov played a one-two before tumbling theatrically in the Wales area after running into Collins.
Referee Manuel de Sousa waved that penalty appeal away but needed a longer, harder look when Chris Gunter dived in clumsily on Vladimir Bystrov and was fortunate to be given the benefit of the doubt.
James Collins celebrates scoring Wales' equaliser against Russia
There was a pleasing cut and thrust developing in the game, with Ramsey and Sam Ricketts - catching the eye with a dashing display from right wing-back - looking particularly dangerous for Wales.
Stock was also playing his part in a more holding midfield role, looking every inch the likely successor to the retired Carl Fletcher and Carl Robinson.
But Wales were thankful to Wayne Hennessey midway through the half as the keeper had to react quickly twice in succession to keep his goal intact.
First the Wolves stopper had to be alert when Danny Gabbidon nearly diverted an Arshavin cross into his own net, then Hennessey flung himself left to turn a Kerzhakov shot round the post.
Wales were still showing their teeth on the counter and Joe Ledley was unfortunate he could only direct a header at Akinfeev after good work from Ricketts.
But nine minutes before half-time Russia finally broke through thanks to the brilliance of captain Arshavin.
The Arsenal player cut in from the right and hit a slide-rule pass into the path of Semshov, momentarily lost by Stock, who struck a low, angled shot into the bottom left corner.
Wales had two half-chances to get back on level terms before the break, as Craig Bellamy fired over from a tight angle with team-mates hoping for a cross, while Dave Edwards just lacked the pace to finish Gabbidon's through-ball.
But Russia, vying for top spot in Group Four with Germany, were penned back within nine minutes of the restart.
Bellamy's persistence earned a corner on the left and Collins got across his marker to turn home Ramsey's near-post cross, the Aston Villa defender scoring his second international goal.
The equaliser drained Russia's confidence and for a while the visitors were hanging on.
Russia's Sergei Semak tussles with Wales captain Craig Bellamy
Gunter cut in from the right to fire a speculative shot over the bar, before Ramsey scuffed his effort wide from the edge of the area.
Then Edwards did well to win a goalmouth scramble to get a shot away, only for a deflection and Sergei Semak's acrobatic overhead kick to clear the danger.
But Russia regained their composure and Gabbidon did well to throw himself in front of an Arshavin shot as the midfielder ghosted into position.
No sooner had goal-scorer Semshov been replaced by Tottenham's Pavlyuchenko than Russia retook the lead.
Ignashevich stepped up when Russia were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Wales area and the CSKA Moscow defender kept his shot low, the ball streaking under the leaping Gabbidon to beat the diving Hennessey's outstretched right hand.
Russia nearly made the points safe when Pavlyuchenko's dipping shot left the Wales crossbar quivering.
But after a blocked Ledley shot had threatened a second Wales equaliser, Pavlyuchenko seized on a mistake by Collins deep in injury time to blast in a third goal and seal the result.
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