Russia vs Portugal – Wednesday 21 June 16:00 BST/17:00 CEST – Spartak Stadium – Moscow, Russia
Fedor Smolov carried his excellent domestic and international form into the tournament by starting and finishing Russia’s second goal against New Zealand on Friday, and the Krasnodar forward will once again be the focal point of the hosts’ attack. With constant speculation over his destination for next season ahead of a critical World Cup on home soil, this is his window to demonstrate to any potential suitors what he can bring to the table.
A blistering opening quarter of an hour showed that Stanislav Cherchesov’s youthful side are not all about one man, though. Even without the creativity and drive of Roman Zobnin, Alan Dzagoev and Pavel Mamaev in the centre, Sbornaya were a menace throughout, with their only regret being that they didn’t make the most of a chance to rack up an impressive goal difference. Denis Glushakov was instrumental in breaking the deadlock – a move that FIFA later credited as an own goal – and the Spartak Moscow skipper will be essential to any hopes Russia have of overcoming Portugal.
It is certain Cherchesov will continue with a 3-5-2 formation, with Alexander Samedov likely to retain his right wingback position; what is less certain is how the lineup will look further up the pitch. Against the weaker New Zealand side the pace of Dmitri Poloz was selected alongside Smolov, but to offer an outlet against the advantage in possession Portugal will most likely enjoy a more muscular presence up front might be required.. This game represents the biggest test of Cherchesov’s reign so far, as well as being a measure of how adventurously he intends to approach the World Cup.
Portugal have such an embarrassment of riches that the mercurial Bernardo Silva did not even make it off the bench as old warhorses Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma were entrusted instead. Mexico were certainly fortunate to emerge with anything from their clash at the weekend, so Fernando Santos will be confident of dominating possession and attacking territory against Russia. He has been quite open about the need to rotate his squad in this tournament, so one or two changes to his lineup should be expected.
Knowing they have by far the easiest fixture remaining in the last round of group games, the emphasis is not quite so firmly on the European champions as it is on the Group A leaders. There is a strong possibility three teams will all end up level on points after this coming weekend, so goal difference – the first tiebreaker, not head to head record – could well come into play. A draw in this game and between Russia and Mexico at the weekend, coupled with two expected defeats for New Zealand, will leave Russia, Mexico and Portugal on five points.
Russia vs Portugal – Players to Look Out For
Alexander Samedov #19 Russia
Many people were surprised at the 32-year-old’s transfer to eventual champions Spartak Moscow in January, but the veteran wide man has shown himself to be an influential campaigner still. Traditionally used as a winger throughout his career, he has adapted with the times and grown into a variety of roles to fit changing formations; he has played at wingback, support striker and right midfield for his country alone this season. His pinpoint delivery into the box, from open play or set pieces, will be a vital asset, even if he doesn’t last the whole 90 minutes
João Moutinho #8 Portugal
While all the attention will inevitably be focused on the Portuguese captain, Moutinho will once again be the man responsible for moving play forward swiftly and accurately to serve the forward line. He will win his 100th cap for O Selecão if he is selected on Wednesday, and his experience will be more important than many realise. Only seven international goals is one indication of the role he plays; less involved with scoring and assisting, but a facilitator overseeing the whole operation.
Russia vs Portugal – Match Stats
- Russia are unbeaten in the last three home meetings with Portugal, winning the latest in 2015 1-0 thanks to Roman Shirokov.
- Portugal have only scored once in the last four meetings overall
- Russia have won all three meetings in Moscow, including as the Soviet Union in 1983
Prediction: Russia vs Portugal 1-1
Russia vs Portugal – possible Lineups
Akinfeev – Dzhikia, Kudryashov, Vasin – Smolnikov, Glushakov, Golovin, Samedov, Zhirkov – Smolov, Bukharov
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Rui Patrício – Soares, Fonte, Pepe, Guerreiro – Carvalho, Bernardo Silva, Moutinho, Martins – André Silva, Ronaldo
Manager: Fernando Santos
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.