KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- Russia suffered a serious Confederations Cup setback in losing 1-0 to Portugal at Moscow Spartak – a defeat which cost them the leadership of Group A and much of the confidence derived from their opening weekend victory over New Zealand.
European champions Portugal were a class better than their hosts for much of the match but their failure to convert commanding first-half possession into more goals left them vulnerable to a late fan-inspired Russian surge.
Unfortunately Stanislav Cherchesov’s men lacked the precision in and around the penalty box to seize the late moment and were thus condemned by an eighth-minute strike from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Shockingly sloppy defending to a long, left-wing cross from Raphael Guerrero allowed the Real Madrid superstar to leap above Fedor Kudriashov and head past keeper Igor Akinfeyev for what proved the only and decisive goal of the game.
At the weekend Russia had opened the World Cup warm-up tournament with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand while Portugal had managed ‘only’ a 2-2 draw with Mexico.
A second victory for Russia would have secured a semi-final slot with a group game to spare. Instead defeat revived many of the doubts and uncertainties about the qualities of the team being rebuilt by Cherchesov after the dismal showing at Euro 2016.
Russia made two changes and Portugal four from their opening ganes and it was the recalled Bernardo Silva, Manchester City’s new acquisition from Monaco, who was at the heart of all Portugal’s early good work. Above all, he provided the crossfield pass from which Guerrero served Ronaldo with the opening goal.
Akinfeyev, making his 100th appearance for Russia, found himself under persistent pressure from Ronaldo.
The World Player of the Year was handed another goal opportunity in the 24th minute from a free kick after he was tripped by Kudriashov. This time Akinfeyev, making his 100th international appearance for Russia, dived low to his right to save. Minutes later Akinfeyev blocked another Ronaldo effort with his legs.
Russia’s defensive weakness in the air was exposed again early in the second half. This time Portuguese centre-forward Andre Silva was allowed a ‘free’ header from close range but Akineyev dived left to make a one-handed save.
The keeper came to the Russian rescue again in the 58th minute, this time leaping in the opposite direction to keep out a low, long-range drive from rightback Cedric.
Ronaldo popped into the game occasionally, putting header wide wheb Andre Silvas return cross fell just beyond him then screwing a shot high over the bar.
Russia, encouraged, raised their own tempo and excited their fans with some late attacking surges but, for all their closing efforts, they created little in terms of serious threat to keeper Rui Patricio.
Now their prospects of progress to the semi-finals rest of the outcome of Saturday’s final group game against Mexico in Kazan.