Russia are in pole position in Group J of the European qualifiers ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament after they took advantage of dropped points from former leaders Croatia. The 2018 World Cup hosts became the new leaders in their group after an impressive 2-1 win at the home of Slovenia last week Monday.

Apart from Russia, Croatia and Slovenia, the other teams in Group J are Malta, Cyprus and Slovakia. Ahead of the eighth round of games in the group held last week Monday, Croatia held on to the summit from Russia via goal difference.

The Croatians lost top spot in the group after they could only play out a 2-2 draw with Slovakia at home. Russia took full advantage by beating Slovenia to move two points clear of their rivals for the only automatic slot in the group for next year’s FIFA World Cup tournament. Group J winners will go straight to the tournament billed for Qatar at the end of next year, while the team in second place will have to go through the playoffs to secure a place at the tournament.

All the goals in the game between Slovenia and Russia came in the first half. The visitors won the game thanks to two goals in four minutes. Ivan Diveyev gave Russia the lead on 28 minutes at the expense of the host team before the advantage was doubled four minutes later through Georgi Dzhikiya. Atalanta star Josip Ilicic pulled one back for Slovenia with five minutes remaining in the first half. The goal from Ilicic proved to be mere consolation in the end after the failure to tie the game in the second half on the part of the Slovenians.

Only Russia and Croatia can qualify either as group winners or the team in second place with two games left to play. The other teams have been eliminated.