Russia and Portugal battle for top spot

Unbeaten Group F big guns go head-to-head in World Cup qualification with three valuable points on the line.

Portugal boss Paulo Bento’s plans will be boosted by the news that Cristiano Ronaldo has made a full recovery from a sprained shoulder suffered in last weekend’s El Clasico [Reuters]
Portugal boss Paulo Bento’s plans will be boosted by the news that Cristiano Ronaldo has made a full recovery from a sprained shoulder suffered in last weekend’s El Clasico [Reuters]

Joint-leaders Russia and Portugal go head-to-head in Moscow on Friday with both teams intent on claiming top spot in Group F as they pursue their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Both countries boast a maximum six points from their opening two matches, five points ahead of their four group rivals.

Portugal manager Paulo Bento said the result of this tie may determine his team’s strategy for the remaining qualifiers, adding that he was setting his players the task of grabbing all three points.

“Our main goal is to earn automatic qualification for the World Cup,” Bento said.

“A win in Moscow will greatly boost our chances of clinching a direct pass to Brazil.”

Attacking potential

Bento warned however that Russia manager Fabio Capello had improved the squad since taking over.

“The Russian team have great attacking potential. The recent European championships proved it,” Bento said.

“And they seriously boosted their defensive performance after they invited Capello to coach them.

“In the Moscow match we are set to play our regular attacking style football. But I’m afraid we will have to play in defence more than we want to.”

Portugal are expected to field a full-strength squad as their star striker Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoulder sprain, suffered in Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw against Barcelona last weekend, was insignificant.

Meanwhile, Capello has dropped three of his team’s experienced veterans ahead of his team’s qualifiers with Portugal and Azerbaijan.

Arsenal forward Andrei Arshavin, Reading striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and former Tottenham attacker Roman Pavlyuchenko were all left out of his squad.

The 66-year-old coach continued his Russian rejuvenation, calling up 22-year-old rookie Maxim Grigoriev of Lokomotiv Moscow to boost his team’s attacking line.

“It’s my choice. I consider that I have gathered all Russia’s best players in my squad,” Capello said.

“There’s no clear favourite in the upcoming match. Portugal is a top-class team but Russia yield to no one.”

Denisov in

Capello has also summoned skipper Igor Denisov despite the 28-year-old midfielder’s demotion from Zenit’s first team into the youth squad after his revolt with the club chiefs over the salaries paid to big-money signings Hulk and Axel Witsel.

Denisov, lacking recent match practice, was following an individual training programme.

However, Capello has confirmed Denisov as his team’s skipper under any circumstances.

“I consider Denisov to be a very important and necessary player for our team,” Capello said. “Igor (Denisov) is a man of strong character and a player with winning mentality.”

Denisov thanked Capello for his trust and promised to settle the problem with his club in the near future.

“I’d like to thank our coach for his trust in me and I’ll do everything in my means to justify his confidence,” Denisov said.

“On my return to the club I’ll talk to Zenit chiefs to settle the problem.”

Russia are expecting a tough battle in what they have labelled the Group F decider.

“We will have to play against a very strong team, with a set of star players in its line-up,” said Lokomotiv midfielder Denis Glushakov.

“It will be a very uneasy match but our players are all in a brave mood after winning both of our qualifiers at the start.”

Russia are trying to record their first win over Portugal in the post-Soviet era. Portugal won two of three previous encounters with Russia 2-0 and 7-1. Their third match ended in a goalless draw.

Russia will likely enjoy strong home support with a sell-out crowd expected at the 85,000 Luzhniki arena with 63,000 tickets already sold by Wednesday.

Source : AFP

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