Russia Takes Control of Group F with 1-0 Win over Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal
In what was probably the marquee matchup of Europe's World Cup qualifying fixtures Friday, Russia picked up a huge victory over Portugal in Group F.
Here is what you need know about the match:
How it happened
On the rain-soaked pitch of the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, both teams took the field for what was sure to be an important match in UEFA's Group F.
Portugal started the match tentatively and quickly paid the price. In the sixth minute, the Portuguese defense was cut wide open, as Aleksandr Kerzhakov ran straight past Pepe and in on goal. With keeper Rui Patricio left helpless, Kerzhakov did what he was unable to do in Euro 2012 and dispatched a fine shot into the back of the net.
Portugal had another huge concern very early in the match, as their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo came out of a challenge hobbling on his left ankle. The Real Madrid man was already a concern after injuring his shoulder in El Clasico last weekend, but he was left clearly limping for a good deal of time.
The Portuguese were hit even worse in the 20th minute, as left-back Fabio Coentrao went down with injury and had to be replaced by Miguel Lopes.
Despite the injuries, Portugal seemed to wake up after falling behind. Ronaldo burst in on goal and took a fine left-footed shot at the near-post, but Igor Akinfeev made the save with relative ease (begging questions of Victor Valdes's performance in El Clasico). Later, Bruno Alves directed a ferocious header on target, but Akinfeev proved again that he is one of the finest young keepers in the world and certainly one to watch.
By halftime, Portugal had a whopping 65 percent of possession. However, they lacked a cutting edge in the final third, with Nani's crosses and Helder Postiga's play up front a constant disappointment.
The second half of the match was not one to write home about. Portugal again held the majority of the possession, but they seemed to lose confidence and become frustrated early in that half. On the other hand, Russia defended admirably and looked impenetrable, with Sergei Ignashevich deserving many plaudits for his performance.
By the final whistle, Portugal had enjoyed 70 percent of possession while Russia walked out with all three points.
What the result means
Russia's 1-0 victory moves them into a dominant position in UEFA's Group F, sitting on nine points and three clear of Portugal on six. This position is made all the stronger when you consider that the first tiebreak between the teams (should they be level on points) is head-to-head performance.
On the other hand, it is not the worst result ever for Portugal. The Portuguese will still be sitting in second place in the group after three matches, a position that would almost guarantee them a spot in a playoff. Seeing as Portugal has qualified for their past two major tournaments through playoffs, this is not a position they would hate.
Do you think Portugal will make it to the World Cup now?
Further, Portugal are still not out of the race for the group, as there is a lot of football left to be played. After all, a win over Russia by more than one goal in their meeting in Portugal would give Portugal the tiebreaker.
Both teams will be in action Tuesday in World Cup qualifiers, as Russia will be home to Azerbaijan and Portugal will be home to Northern Ireland.
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