Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header guided Portugal to top place in Group A against hosts Russia.
Russia required three points to secure their spot in the semi-finals but are now fighting an uphill battle.
They started off defensively and would be rueing their decision to do so when Cristiano Ronaldo broke the deadlock after 8 minutes.
The hosts struggled to shift out of their defensive mindset and Portugal continued to apply attacking pressure. Ronaldo was denied from close range and Russia failed to record an attempt on target during the first half.
Russia made attacking substitutions during the second half and enjoyed more success in the final third. However, Portugal held on in the late stages and also had opportunities of their own.
Euro 2016 winners Portugal replace Russia at the top of Group A, leading them by only one point. Mexico face New Zealand in the late kick-off and victory by two or more goals will take them above Portugal on goal difference.
Group A will conclude on Sunday with Portugal facing New Zealand and Russia playing Mexico. The prospect of a group stage exit is nearing a reality for hosts Russia, who could drop into third place by the end of Match Day 2.
Average Russia Lack Clinical Edge
It was very frustrating watching Russia in their 1-0 defeat to Portugal in the early kick-off. They set-up defensively, in the attempt of weathering the storm of Portugal attacks and causing problems on the counter-attack.
Unfortunately, they did neither and also left it too late to comeback from a disastrous start to the game. They applied men behind the ball but they seemed clueless with the purpose of their roles.
On various occasions, Portugal swooped forward and Russia had countless players dotted around in unnecessary positions. It’s rare that you have so many players in space, despite Russia having 8 or 9 players behind the ball.
In the first half they conceded early, which completely changed their game plan. Ronaldo guided Portugal into an early lead after just 8 minutes. Kudriashov failed to mark Ronaldo at the far post and the Real Madrid forward duly punished him with a ruthless header into the roof of the net.
The hosts left out star striker Dmitry Poloz from the starting line-up, meaning Fyodor Smolov lacked service in the final third. Russia failed to manoeuvre the ball quickly and were unable to shift from their initial defensive mindset.
Portugal began to shift players into attacking positions and Russia continued to come under fire from the Euro 2016 winners. Ronaldo had an effort saved and Portugal probed several other attacking threats to the Russians.
Portugal’s tendency to commit players forward should’ve left them vulnerable to the counter-attack. However, we saw a prime example of Russia’s failure to penetrate the ball forward quickly. Portugal were caught on the attack but Russia played too many passes and Glushakov was fell at the first hurdle by gifting possession to William Carvalho.
The Portuguese played with attacking full-backs, which should’ve been an area for Russia to exploit. However, they allowed them to regain their shape and return to their positions by playing at a slow tempo.
Russia failed to record a shot on target and their best opportunity came via Fyodor Smolov. He suffered from a moment of indecision and elected to strike with his left foot at the near post. Obviously, he squandered his only goal scoring chance and dispatched the ball wayward.
In the second half, Russia replaced central defender Shishkin with midfielder Erokhin. Poloz and Bukharov were also introduced in a late ditch attempt to salvage a vital points for the Russians.
Smolov was inches away from guiding Samedov’s clipped cross towards goal but was unable to make contact with his delivery. Dzhikya headed over in stoppage time and an attempted cross was also forced behind by Rui Patricio.
Akinfeev rescued Russia on a number of occasions with a couple of world class saves. He denied Ronaldo at the near post in the first half and thwarted Andre Silva and Cedric in the second half.
Russia will need to play with an attacking mindset from the first whistle in their final match against Mexico. If Mexico beat New Zealand in the late kick-off, Russia will require nothing less than three points to prevent elimination and progress to the semi-finals.