THE Confederations Cup is up and running and we asked international football analyst Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his thoughts on the Group A encounter between Russia and Portugal.
Russia v Portugal | Wednesday 16:00 | ITV
Russia kicked-off their Confederations Cup campaign with a comfortable 2-0 triumph over New Zealand on Saturday afternoon in St Petersburg.
The shot count read 18-10 but 11 of those Russian efforts arrived from inside the opposition penalty box and the Sbornaya won the expected goals count 2.84 – 0.74. Fans of Packing (and Inspect) stats might be intrigued to learn the hosts won both ratings by 417 (23) – 258 (17).
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side now head to Moscow with a capacity and vociferous crowd forecast for the Spartak Stadium; a far cry from the sparsely populated and tepid opener in the country’s second city.
Russia start with a win
After an indifferent string of results this year, Russia were relieved to make their mark early on. Home draws with Belgium and Chile were adequate rather than impressive and their sole warm-up success – a 3-0 victory in Hungary – has since been devalued by Magyars losing away to Andorra in a World Cup qualifier.
Short of competitive action, the Sbornaya used their 3-5-2 formation to press New Zealand high and hard, pinning the underdogs back in their own area. Cherchesov is unlikely to follow the same pattern here; a more cautious approach is expected with the home side happy to cede the initiative.
The triumph against the Kiwis was only Russia’s fourth in 16 outings but host nations tend to perform well at the Confederations Cup. However, the tools available to Cherchesov remain more workmanlike than inspiring with key trio Artem Dzyuba, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Zobnin all missing.
Striker Fyodor Smolov – arriving off two straight domestic Golden Boot wins – added to his burgeoning reputation with a solid opening display and Russia will need the Krasnodar hit-man to be at his best if they’re to progress to the semi-finals.
Portugal denied late on
Portugal were denied a curtain-raising success of their own when shipping a 91st-minute leveller to Mexico on Sunday. The European champions twice lead in an absorbing, open and attacking encounter, only for their unconvincing defence to fold late on.
Cristiano Ronaldo was named Man of the Match and while the Real Madrid forward did not net himself, he did provide a brilliant assist for his side's first. Head coach Fernando Santos will be looking for another pivotal performance from the all-time Portuguese top scorer despite admitting he may rotate.
However, Santos may opt to wait until the final group game against New Zealand to rest his preferred XI knowing the Selecao cannot afford to lose in the capital on Wednesday if they’re to realise their ambitions of a semi-final spot.
As expected, Bernardo Silva failed to make the starting XI but Gelson Martins and new Milan signing Andre Silva both made positive impacts off the bench and could be given a more prominent role should Portugal decide to freshen things up.
The betting angle
Santos was certainly concerned about the lack of pace in his midfield and defence against Mexico but a game against a laboured Russian outfit should suit his side here. And so the Selecao are fair 26/25 (Marathon) favourites.
The visitors have scored at least twice in each of their last eight matches – rattling in 30 goals – and winning on six occasions. Portugal have recorded eight clean sheets in 12 whilst each of their past seven victories have arrived by at least a three-goal margin.
Sure, hammering the likes of Latvia or a Faroe Islands is not the same as taking on a Mexico, or a Sweden, to whom they lost in a friendly in March, but the Portuguese are superior in almost every department and should be capable of clinching a vital victory.
Since Euro 2012, this side have W22-D11-L4 in competitive clashes, marking them out as a devilishly difficult side to beat but they also boast the world class personnel to pocket maximum points when posed with a bang average Russian outfit.
Russia v Portugal – Portugal to win (26/25 Marathon)