Portugal head to Moscow on Friday for a Group F meeting with Russia. Both teams are tied for first place with two wins and six points.
Both coaches know this game is important, as the winner will gain a possible three points and take sole possession of first place.
In an interview with Fifa.com, Portugal Coach Paulo Bento is confident in his team. "Russia have the same objective as us so there's no favourite, but we're going out there to win and to leave here with a total of nine points,” he said.
However, Russia may not have to worry about the defense from Pepe, who is doubtful for Friday as he tries to shake off a thigh injury.
Looking ahead to Brazil 2014, both Russia and Portugal are likely to qualify. Whoever wins on Friday will most likely win Group F and receive an automatic place in the World Cup.
Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
When: Friday, October 12, 10:55 a.m. EST
TV/Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Russia Offense Must Take Advantage of Absent Pepe
Russia’s first two matches resulted in shutouts. They defeated Northern Ireland 2-0 and Israel 4-0. In their match against Israel, Russia scored two goals early in the first half and never looked back.
Although Portugal is a tougher opponent than Israel, Russia will have an easier time scoring without Pepe on defense.
Pepe is a great defender who cuts off every pass near him. He’s also an aggressive player who isn’t afraid to draw a penalty. In the 2012-13 season, Pepe has suffered 24 fouls with Real Madrid and Portugal.
Russian Midfielder Viktor Fayzulin has two goals and an assist in his two Group F games this season.
Russia also have history on their side. They have never lost to Portugal at home, winning in 1983 (as the Soviet Union) and drawing in 2005.
Portugal: Ronaldo Gives Offense Stability
In the September 9 match against Luxembourg, Ronaldo scored a goal in the 27th minute to tie the game 1-1. Hélder Postiga scored the game-winning goal in the 54th minute.
Portugal had an easier time with Azerbaijan. Despite not scoring a goal in the first half, Portugal scored three goals in the second half. Silvestre Varela scored the first goal of the game in the 64th minute.
With Pepe most likely out for Friday’s game, Portugal must rely on the offensive ability of Ronaldo and Postiga to defeat Russia.
Recent history proves that Portugal has nothing to worry about. The Seleccao are undefeated in their last three fixtures against the Russians.
I believe the absence of Pepe will hurt Portugal on defense. Russia score an early goal and go into the half up 1-0. Portugal will come out attacking and tie the game. The final score will be 1-1.