ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Manager Stanislav Cherchesov said Alexei Miranchuk, Russia's goalscorer in their 1-0 win over Finland on Wednesday, had improved since going to Serie A club Atalanta last year and that the national team was benefiting from his European experience.
Miranchuk scored a stunning first half stoppage time winner in front of a home crowd in St Petersburg, alleviating the sting from Russia's 3-0 loss to Belgium in their opener.
Cherchesov lamented some missed chances but said he was especially pleased with Miranchuk, one of the few Russians who plays in a top European league.
"As a person he needed to get out of his comfort zone and prove himself in one of the world's best leagues," Cherchesov said of Miranchuk, who played for Lokomotiv Moscow prior to Atalanta.
"We are pleased with his progress. We are hoping that he will take on a leading role at Atalanta next season."
The other Russians who play in Europe include Alexander Golovin for Monaco and Denis Cheryshev for Valencia.
Russians often tend to remain in the Russian Premier League, which can offer them more benefits and playing time than they would have in Europe.
Cherchesov's side is now second in the standings, ahead of Finland thanks to the head-to-head result.
Belgium top the group ahead of their game against Denmark on Thursday, with Russia playing Denmark on Monday.
Cherchesov made changes to his lineup in a bid to reinvigorate his troops after the loss to Belgium, including by starting 22-year-old Matvei Safonov in goals instead of Anton Shunin after his lacklustre performance in their opener.
"It's not like I took a goalkeeper from off the streets," Cherchesov said of Safonov, who plays for FC Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League. "He's on the team, he has the right to play. We look closely and make decisions."
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)