ST. PETERSBURG, Russia :Russia struck five second-half goals as they routed visiting Cyprus 6-0 in their Group H World Cup qualifier on Thursday ahead of a decisive clash with Croatia this weekend for an automatic berth in next year's tournament in Qatar.
The Russians top the group on 22 points from nine games, two ahead of 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia who stayed in contention to leapfrog them with a 7-1 demolition of Malta nL8N2S280X.
The results have set up a high-octane clash in Croatia's coastal city of Split on Sunday, with Russia needing at least a draw to hold on to top spot and book their ticket.
The runners-up go into the playoffs in March.
Russia's Aleksandr Erokhin scored in each half at home to Cyprus, with Fedor Smolov, Andrey Mostovoy, Aleksei Sutormin and Anton Zabolotny also on target in the last 35 minutes.
A cross by Russia's Aleksei Sutormin from the right flank found striker Smolov in the box abd he set up an unmarked Erokhin for a tap-in after four minutes.
Smolov made it 2-0 in the 55th and less than a minute later Mostovoy outfoxed three defenders with some fancy footwork to make it 3-0, beating keeper Demetris Demetriou to his far left.
Sutormin headed past Demetriou in the 62nd minute after a defensive blunder, while Zabolotny scored Russia's fifth with a low strike. Erokhin added his second of the night in the 87th to round off an emphatic victory by the hosts.
Cyprus, bottom of the group with five points, take on Slovenia, who are in fourth place on 11, in their last game.
(Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)