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FIFA World Cup Qualifying: Portugal 1 Russia 0

Portugal inflicted Russia’s first defeat of their FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign thanks to a ninth-minute Helder Postiga goal on Friday.

The three points lift Portugal to the top of Group F with three games left to play, although Fabio Capello’s Russians are just two points behind, and still have a whopping 15 to play for.

Paulo Bento handed a competitive debut to Luis Neto in the place of the suspended Pepe, with Nani benched in favour of Vieirinha on the right wing, while Russia saw captain Igor Denisov return to the starting XI.

The visitors came into the match in impressive form, having not conceding a goal in qualifying, but it was the home side who made the better start in Lisbon, pressing their opponents well and keeping possession.

Despite this, it was still something of a surprise when Portugal took the lead on nine minutes through Postiga, who took full advantage of some sloppy defending to finish Miguel Veloso’s left-wing free-kick at the far post.
Russia’s inability to keep the ball for any length of time invited Portugal on and Postiga could have had a second on 18 mins, glancing a header over the bar from a Cristiano Ronaldo set-piece.
Ronaldo himself was then played in by Neto but could not force a shot on target as the home side pressed for a second.
Russia’s first venture into the opposition half saw Alexandr Kerzhakov force Rui Patricio but their best chance came on 38 minutes as substitute Denis Glushakov could only turn Yuri Zhirkov’s cross wide past the far post.
Roman Shirokov then turned and struck an effort over the bar, meaning Portugal went in ahead at the break despite a late fightback from the visitors.
The second half was a scrappy affair to begin with as both sides committed a number of fouls with few chances to be had.
Portugal again had the first flurry of chances, with Ronaldo having three efforts on goal in just as many minutes without a further breakthrough.
Things gradually edged the way of Russia as the half wore on with Shirokov having the final chance for the visitors.
The Zenit St Petersburg midfielder could only shoot straight at Patricio after good work from Zhirkov down the right-hand side and that effectively signalled the three points for the hosts.
Portugal held on to a vital win, which moves them a point clear at the top, with games to come against Northern Ireland, Israel and Luxembourg, with Bento’s men realistically needing to win all three and hope Russia severely stumble if they are to automatically qualify for Brazil 2014.
Fri 7 June, 2013
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