What: 2014 World Cup Qualifying – Group F
Who: Russia vs Portugal
When: Friday 12th October, 2012, at 16:00 UK Time
Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
Capello’s Men Off To Fine Start
Russia have made an impressive start to life under Fabio Capello, who took over from Dick Advocaat as coach this summer. A 4-0 win in a tricky away tie against Israel was followed up with a comfortable victory over Northern Ireland, but a home clash with Portugal presents a very different challenge.
Capello also made a flying start to life as manager of England, yet his spell in charge fizzled out, with many complaining about his communication. And the Italian has admitted that he is already having troubles in this area in his new post.
“It is difficult to read and to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, and also because there aren’t many people who speak English, so I always need a translator”, said Capello. “To think that somebody is translating what I want to say, they might translate it with some of their ideas or according to their feelings. I would say it is difficult, but as with all difficult challenges, I like to take them on.”
That is not the only parallel with his time as England coach: Capello has repeated his intention not to select players who are not featuring regularly for their clubs. To that end, former national team captain Andrei Arshavin is once again absent from the squad for this round of qualifiers. However Igor Denisov, banished to the Zenit St. Petersburg reserves amid a salary row that has caused a rupture in the Russian champions’ dressing room, is in the squad. There is also a question mark over playmaker Alan Dzagoev, dropped for Russia’s last match against Israel. The prodigious midfielder has also been in trouble domestically and is facing a lengthy ban after punching Luke Wilkshire in a league match.
Portugal Look For Lift Off
The result against Luxembourg in their last qualifier would have been disappointing, given that the Portuguese had to come back from a goal down to record a 2-1 victory. There may be no easy games in international football but Portugal would have expected to win that match with more ease, and Paulo Bento’s side have a habit of making life difficult for themselves during qualifiers.
Nonetheless, Portugal have six points on the board, and Israel, on paper the strongest challenge to Portugal and Russia, are far behind already, meaning these two sides look set to dominate the group. A trip to Russia should bring out the best in a team who have shown that they are not afraid of the big games. Having come closer than anyone to ending Spain’s international hegemony at this summer’s European Championship, the Portuguese would go to Brazil with confidence if they reach the next World Cup.
This Russia team is a real threat to those hopes. Key for Portugal could be the fitness of Joao Pereira and Pepe, who are both battling to be ready in time for this clash, and along with Bruno Alves and Fabio Contreao, form a solid backline. The match also takes place almost eight years to the day that Portugal crushed Russia 7-1 in another World Cup qualifier. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Helder Postiga remain from that team, while a number of the Russia side are still involved. Although Portugal will not expect to get anywhere close to a repeat, they could do worse than spend some of the time between now and then watching a video of that encounter for inspiration.
Russia 1-1 Ivory Coast (15/08; Friendly)
Russia 2-0 Northern Ireland (07/09; World Cup Qualifiers)
Israel 0-4 Russia (11/09; World Cup Qualifiers)
Portugal 2-0 Panama (15/08; Friendly)
Luxembourg 1-2 Portugal (07/09; World Cup Qualifiers)
Portugal 3-0 Azerbaijan (11/09; World Cup Qualifiers)
Russia: Vladimir Bystrov (doubt); Igor Denisov (doubt)
Portugal: Pepe (doubt); Joao Pereira (doubt); Raul Meireles
Players to watch
Russia – Roman Shirokov. The enigmatic Shirokov has the potential to frustrate with his attitude, but when at his best he is a superb talent. The former defender’s passing and creativity make him a vital part of the Russia team. He will have to be at his best to cope with an energetic Portuguese central midfield, and his passing out from the middle of the pitch is poised to play a big part in setting Russia off on rapid counter attacks, which may be the key against this Portugal team.
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo: The statistics are phenomenal. One goal away from a goal in his seventh consecutive Clasico last weekend, Ronaldo has 14 goals in 11 games this season alone. In total, he now has 160 goals in 155 games for Real Madrid. His record, understandably, is not quite as frightening with Portugal but at the European Championships this summer Ronaldo showed that he is starting to reproduce his club form for his country. Linking up well as the key cog in a fluid front three, all eyes will naturally and predictably be on Ronaldo as he looks to continue his remarkable form.
Capello’s sides are well drilled tactically (if they can understand what is asked of them), and he boasts one of Europe’s strongest international defences. The centre back pairing of Vasily Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich in front of Igor Akinfeev would pose a challenge for the most formidable of attacks.
But if anyone is to break them down, it is surely Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man has the tricks to unlock any defence in world football and full-back Alexander Anyukov could be in for a very long night. This game though is likely to be won in midfield, with an intriguing tussle set to take place. On one side is Portugal’s dynamic and technically gifted trio of Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles. They will come up against the Zenit St Petersburg trio of Shirokov, Denisov and Viktor Fayzulin, who have been the basis of the Russian side’s back-to-back league title triumphs. Fayzulin has enjoyed a run in the team since Capello’s arrival and seems to be thriving at international level.
The other third of the pitch will set Aleksandr Kerzhakov against Zenit team-mate Bruno Alves, marshalling the Portuguese defence. It all adds up to a tight, fiercely contested showdown. While acknowledging the presence of Ronaldo, neither side has a particularly prolific centre forward and with two solid defences and powerful midfields on show, there may be few chances in this game. Russia 0-0 Portugal.
Fancy a bet this weekend? Read our Russia v Portugal.