Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo headed an early winner on Wednesday as European champions Portugal took a big step towards the Confederations Cup semi-finals with a 1-0 victory over hosts Russia.
Ronaldo was on target in the eighth minute to silence the 42,759-strong crowd at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium, and was named man-of-the-match as after their first game against Mexico.
Portugal failed to get a second on promising efforts from Ronaldo and Andre Silva against mostly harmless Russians who had their best chance in stoppage time from Georgy Dzhikya’s header.
Portugal moved joint top of group A on four points past Russia who remained on three and now are in a must-win situation against Mexico who have four after beating New Zealand 2-1 in the day’s other game. Portugal’s last game is against eliminated New Zealand.
“We played very well in the first half, with lots of personality. “The second half started well, but we didn’t have the same capacity in one-on-one situations,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.
Ronaldo said he was “very happy with the result,” considering that “we played against the home crowd.”
Santos made four changes to the team that had to swallow a last-minute 2-2 equalizer against Mexico while Russia’s Stanislav Cherchesov brought on two new faces in defender Roman Shishkin and Ruslan Kambolov after an opening 2-0 over New Zealand.
Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev earned his 100th cap but that was spoilt early on when Ronaldo headed in Raphael Guerreiro’s accurate cross at the far right post.
Akinfeev then saved Ronaldo’s free-kick and was also on his guard in the 32nd against the Real Madrid star.
Russia were unable to create any danger against a firm Portugal defense, with only a half-chance from forward Fedor Smolov who however aimed some 5 meters wide right off Alexandr Golovin’s low cross.
Akinfeev kept Russia in the game when he saved spectacularly from Silva’s 50th-minute header after the Porto striker leaped over the defender Dzhikya.
But Russia — with midfielder Alexandr Erokhin on for Shishkin — made a bigger effort in the second half, and Smolov just failed to connect with a cross in a promising position just after the hour.
Borussia Dortmund’s Guerreiro had to limp off injured midway through the second half and was taken to hospital with a suspected ankle fracture, according to Santos.
Cherchesov brought on a second forward in Dmitry Poloz, but the Russian attacks lacked precision and Dzhikya was lucky to escape with a booking after kicking out at Pepe.
Portugal, who occasionally threatened on the counter, had to sweat it out until the end but Dzhikya headed just over the bar in stoppage time as Portugal escaped another late equalizer.
“Russia pressured us in the second half,” Santos admitted, and Cherchesov was also pleased with his team’s improvement after the break although it was to no avial.
“We played much more fluently in the second half. We appeared less apprehensive,” he said.