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Croatia draws with new-look Russia in World Cup qualifying

September 1, 2021 GMT
Russia's Aleksey Ionov, centre, challenges for the ball with Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic, left, and Croatia's Mario Pasalic during the World Cup 2022 group H qualifying soccer match between Russia and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept.1, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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Russia's Aleksey Ionov, centre, challenges for the ball with Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic, left, and Croatia's Mario Pasalic during the World Cup 2022 group H qualifying soccer match between Russia and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept.1, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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Russia's Aleksey Ionov, centre, challenges for the ball with Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic, left, and Croatia's Mario Pasalic during the World Cup 2022 group H qualifying soccer match between Russia and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept.1, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW (AP) — Croatia drew 0-0 with a new-look Russia team to stay atop its World Cup qualifying group Wednesday as tiny Malta secured a commanding win.

There were few chances for either team to score in a cagey match at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where Croatia lost the 2018 World Cup final to France. Croatia and Russia have seven points apiece in Group H but the Croatians are ahead on goal difference.

It was the first game in charge for new Russia coach Valery Karpin, who replaced Stanislav Cherchesov after Russia failed to advance from its group at the European Championship.

Karpin gave a start to 18-year-old Dynamo Moscow winger Arsen Zakharyan, who became the youngest outfield player in Russia’s history and the second-youngest player overall behind goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. There was also a debut off the bench for left-back Ilya Samoshnikov.

Slovakia missed its chance to overtake Russia and Croatia for first place with a 1-1 draw against Slovenia. That was the Slovakians’ third draw in four games.

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Malta won its first World Cup qualifier in eight years, beating Cyprus 3-0 with two goals from right-back Cain Attard. That took Malta to its fifth win in 12 months, including friendlies and the Nations League.

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