Portugal went down 1-0 at the Olimpiyskiy stadion Luzhniki in Moscow in their World Cup 2014 qualifier against Russia.
With both teams tied in Group F on 6 points apiece, many favoured the Portuguese to top the group.
However, the Russians proved themselves more than a match for the Portuguese challenge, winning the game 1-0 thanks to an early strike from Aleksandr Kerzhakov in the 6th minute of the game.
Kerzhakov found himself through one-on-one with Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio thanks to an incisive through ball from Roman Shirokov. The Zenit player made no mistake, giving the Russians an early lead as a buffer.
Portugal had numerous opportunities to score in the first half – two headers missed from dead ball situations, Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev keeping the Russian’s lead intact on several occasions as Portugal heaped the pressure on.
Fabio Coentrao was taken off injured 20th minute, adding injury to what was turning into an insult for the Portuguese.
Ronaldo, in petulant frustration went down like a sack of spuds on the edge of the Russian penalty area after running face-first into Russian centre back’s shoulder.
The Russians were well organised, and held their shape impressively. They stifled the Portuguese play, which was time and time again met by equally matched resistance, frustrating them further.
Another header at goal narrowly missed, just edging over the crossbar – this time Nani whipped in a great cross but Helder Postiga was unable to get a clean header to it.
Whilst Portugal dominated possession in the first half, the Russians seemed perfectly happy to sit back an invite wave after wave of attack and then pounce on the counter attack, from which they always looked dangerous – far more of a threat than Portugal admittedly, despite their possession.
As the second half progressed Portugal looked less and less likely to find that elusive equalizer – their first-half frustration turning in the second half to malaise and lethargy. They just couldn’t hit the target.
Their game was defined by Pepe’s 85th minute foul – just as his side were trying to maximize the pressure on the Russians; Pepe committed a clumsy challenge just outside the Portuguese penalty area. After pushing the Russian attacker down, he then claimed the player had handled the ball, which replays showed he hadn’t.
The Russians kept their composure and saw out the final minutes of the game, riding the frustrated and often rash challenges of Portugal who, for all their dynamism and possession in the first half, looked to have run out of ideas.
All in all, it was a great result for the Russians who thoroughly deserved their win. They were solid, organized and resilient in their defence of their early lead and were intelligent in their attacking play, mostly on the counter.
Russia now top the group with 9 points.
image: © jbagley