A Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal have beaten FIFA 2017 Confederations Cup hosts Russia in their Group A match in front of a sell-out crowd in Moscow.
Ronaldo’s headed goal on eight minutes was enough to seal victory and a first ever win for Portugal on Russian soil, having failed in four previous visits.
The win also means Portugal now sit top of Group A on four points, ahead of Mexico and New Zealand’s game later on Wednesday night in Sochi.
Russian goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev was tasked with facing a forward line led by the world’s best player Ronaldo in his 100th international appearance for ‘Sbornaya’.
Ronaldo was unusually cheered by the Moscow crowd whenever he broke forward, but as the game’s early stages developed, it became apparent that the crowd’s encouragement of the Real Madrid winger was redundant.
Just eight minutes had passed when Ronaldo found himself in acres of space at the back post to head home unopposed and make it 1-0 to the visitors, Dmitry Kudryashov was the player guilty of allowing Ronaldo room.
Portugal continued to have the better of the first half, with Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva all causing problems for the Russian backline.
Russia rarely threatened, and nearly found themselves behind after the break when an Andre Silva header drew a stunning save from Akinfeev.
Russia did eventually begin to press for an equalizer, although always appeared vulnerable to Portuguese counter-attacks, with Ronaldo going close with a header.
Stanislav Cherchesov attempted to inject more attacking threat into the team as the second half wore on, introducing Dmitry Poloz and Aleksandr Bukharov in place of defenders Dmitry Kombaraov and Fedor Kudryashov – who in particular suffered a torrid evening at the hands of Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva on Russia’s left flank.
Russia finally came to life in the closing stages, with Dzhikya heading over from a corner, but ultimately it was a comfortable win for Portugal.
Russia go into their last group game against Mexico on Saturday in Kazan knowing that most likely nothing less than a win will be enough to claim a semifinal spot, with the Gold Cup winners widely expected to beat New Zealand in Wednesday’s second Group A game.
Portugal are looking good for a place in the knockout stages as they go into their last group game against New Zealand in St. Petersburg, also on Saturday.
By Danny Armstrong for RT Sport