Slovakia deals Russia tough blow at Euros

Lille, France — Even though the behavior of Russian fans improved, their team might still be forced out of the European Championship early.

Elimination, rather than disqualification, is the immediate threat after Russia’s shortcomings were badly exposed in a 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Wednesday.

Marek Hamsik’s long pass split the Russian defense, setting up Vladimir Weiss for Slovakia’s first goal in the 32nd minute. Weiss turned provider just before halftime as Hamsik powered in the second at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

“He was superb with the ball but also helped a lot in defense and scored a beautiful goal,” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said of Hamsik.

The Russians pulled one back in the 80th minute through Denis Glushakov’s header, but there was no late equalizer like in last Saturday’s violence-marred match against England.

The loss left Russia with only one point from two matches in Group B.

And Russia, which hosts the 2018 World Cup, still has problems on and off the field.

Last Saturday in Marseille, Russian fans attacked their English rivals after their team scored late to earn a 1-1 draw. There was no repeat of the violence in Lille, however.

Russia next faces Wales on Monday in Toulouse, while Slovakia plays England at the same time in Saint-Etienne.

The composed Slovaks, who won a match at the continental championship for the first time, exposed the ineffectiveness of a disjointed Russian side that lacked creativity until the final minutes.

“The Russians were on the ball more and were very good at counterattacks but they left space in defense,” Hamsik said through a translator. “In the second half, we sat deep and luckily we managed to hold on to our lead.”

The opener was a combination of Hamsik’s vision and hapless defending.

From around the halfway line, Hamsik spotted Weiss in space on the edge of the penalty area and sent a long, diagonal pass to the winger.

Weiss befuddled the defense as he cut through before guiding the ball into the net in the 32nd minute.

Weiss and Hamsik weren’t yet finished with embarrassing the Russians, combining even more intelligently and stylishly for the second that exploited another lapse in concentration.

A short corner from Weiss left the Russians in disarray. It reached Hamsik, who was gifted the space to curl a powerful shot from a tight angle in the net off the inside of the far post.

France 2, Albania 0: At Marseille, late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet helped France become the first team to advance to the knockout stages.

For the second consecutive match, late pressure rescued a patchy France side that is struggling to live up to its pre-tournament billing as one of the favorites.

Switzerland 1, Romania 1: At Paris, the Swiss closed in on a spot in the next round.

Admir Mehmedi scored a 57th-minute equalizer with a powerful left-foot shot to give Switzerland four points ahead of its final Group A match against host France.