Russia 0-1 Portugal
Portugal took a huge step towards the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup with a 1-0 victory over tournament hosts Russia at the Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow this afternoon.
An early Cristiano Ronaldo header was scant reward for the Seleção after a dominant first half, with the recalled Bernardo Silva and Adrien Silva both outstanding.
Russia started to apply increasing pressure in the second half, and with Portugal missing a host of chances it needed commanding displays by Pepe and Bruno Alves to ensure the win did not escape Fernando Santos's men.
Santos made four changes to the line-up with the three Silvas all starting; Bernardo, Adrien and André replacing Nani, Quaresma and Moutinho. Bruno Alves replaced José Fonte in central defence as Santos changed the formation to a fluid 4-4-2.
Portugal take early lead
Portugal asserted themselves early on and took the lead through Ronaldo. Bernardo Silva found Raphaël Guerreiro in space, the left back crossing to the back post where Ronaldo capitalised on a stumbling Kudryashov and indecisive Akinfeev to head in his 74th international goal.
Portugal’s personnel and formation switch was paying dividends, increasing the balance and organisation due to André Silva’s mobility, Adrien Silva’s industry, and Bernardo Silva’s trickery. Santos abandoned the lackadaisical approach to pressing we saw against Mexico, pressuring Russia in their own half which resulted in frequent turnovers and Portuguese attackers left in open space.
Ronaldo was targeting the masked Kudryashov, drawing a foul from the defender but hitting the free kick straight at Akinfeev. Portugal then had a great chance to increase their lead. A long ball was flicked on by André Silva to an open Ronaldo, who easily beat Viktor Vasin one on one but his fierce shot was too close to Akinfeev.
Russia never looked like troubling Rui Patrício during the first half, their best chance a wayward effort from Smolov before the break. Pepe was dominant in defence alongside his colleagues, neutralising Russia’s Samedov and Smolov who were the main instigators against New Zealand.
Business as usual after the break
Erokhin replaced Shishkin at half time but it was business as usual as Portugal threatened to extend their lead. Cedric Soares’ cross found André Silva who rose above Dzhikiya, but Akinfeev got a strong hand to his header and tipped it wide. Ronaldo then had a chance on the break but produced a weak header from Bernardo Silva’s cross.
Cedric forced a good save from Akinfeev with a swerving shot from distance, but from that moment Portugal lost control as the game opened up. Russia’s best chance came when Samedov’s cross went just over the head of Smolov, the tournament hosts getting into a dangerous position soon after without fashioning a chance.
Portugal lose control
With Portugal losing their grip on the game they resorted to hitting Russia on the break. André Gomes crossed to Ronaldo with Akinfeev well out of position, but with the goal at his mercy Ronaldo was unable to get any power or accuracy on his header.
Eliseu replaced the injured Guerreiro in the 65th minute, Bernardo Silva setting up Ronaldo after another fast break with the Portugal captain blazing over the bar. The trend continued as André Silva shot powerfully but his effort was straight at Akinfeev.
Portugal were unable to regain control of the match as Russia frequently got into dangerous positions. Dmitriy Poloz replaced Kombarov to add more firepower up front as Fernando Santos made two quick changes to try and stop the home team’s momentum, Gelson Martins on for André Silva and Danilo Pereira replacing Adrien Silva.
Russian manager Cherchesov went for broke with 10 minutes remaining, introducing a third striker onto the pitch as Alexander Bukharov replaced Kudryashov. Seleção supporters were on the edge of their seats during the final minutes, Patricio spilling a cross to gift Russia a corner as Mexico’s stoppage time equaliser on Sunday came flashing back.
Fortunately Dzhikiya headed Samedov’s corner over the bar, Smolov wasting Russia’s final chance as Portugal held on. It is difficult to ascertain how Portugal completely lost control in the final half hour, but with minnows New Zealand offering a gift three points in the final group stage game, Portugal can begin to think ahead to the semi-finals.
Pepe back to his best
Pepe was imperious throughout, looking confident, leading by example and imposing himself on the game from the start. With a comfortable victory against New Zealand likely, Pepe has a great chance to ease into the semi-finals after his injury layoff and recapture the form that was so important to Portugal’s Euro 2016 success.
Those calling for Bernardo Silva to start were vindicated, his invention and imagination a welcome addition to the Portugal midfield while Cedric was busy, continuing to drift infield to add numbers to Portuguese attacks. It was essentially a cohesive team effort that secured the victory, and most would agree that Santos made positive changes.
Portugal’s inability to score a second goal was frustrating, but for all of Russia’s chances in the final half hour they failed to register a single shot on target all game. Portugal reaffirmed their status as tournament favourites but the manner in which they lost control in the latter stages is a concern.
By Matthew Marshall (Twitter @noobzcorp)
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Cédric Soares, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Raphaël Guerreiro (Eliseu 66’), William Carvalho, Adrien Silva (Danilo Pereira 82’), André Gomes, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, André Silva (Gelson Martins 78’)
[0-1] Ronaldo, 8'