CRISTIANO Ronaldo loves rewriting record books. Portugal’s away record against Russia read 0-1-3 before their Confederations Cup match at the Spartak Stadium on Wednesday. Now, it is 1-1-3.
The World Player of the Year loves scoring too. Inspired by their talismanic forward, Portugal got their first victory on Russian soil with Ronaldo’s header giving them a 1-0 victory, dampening the hosts’ party at the tournament which is a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.
It’s the tournament Ronaldo wants to win this summer. Having led Portugal to their first major title at last year’s European Championships in France, Ronaldo helped Real Madrid become the first club to win back-to-back Champions League titles earlier this month.
And on Wednesday, he scored his first Confederations Cup goal to kickstart Portugal’s campaign.
Portugal’s win, their first in four attempts in the Russian capital with a draw and two defeats prior to Wednesday’s game, however damaged the hosts’ chances of progressing from Group ‘A’ of the eight-team event. They now face Mexico on Saturday in a game that will potentially decide which team joins Portugal in the semi-finals from their section.
Starting their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Mexico, Portugal knew they had to win this game to have destiny in their own hands going into their final group game against New Zealand. And they came flying out of the blocks.
It was all Portugal in the opening minutes and despite their fans urging them on Russia weren’t able to keep the ball for a sustained period, the European champions’ quick passing and movement unsettling the hosts.
Ronaldo’s opening goal after nine minutes exemplified that dominance.
He started the move, going past two Russian players with flicks from both his left and right foot before passing the ball wide to Bernardo Silva on the right.
Silva cut inside and lofted the ball over to Rafael Guerriro who took a few steps and delivered a pinpoint cross to Ronaldo whose bullet header gave Igor Akinfeev no chance. No Russian player could even get close to the Portuguese trio involved in the move.
Now, they had to prevent a rout in front of their own fans.
They were thankful to Akinfeev to keep it 1-0 just past the hour mark, the shotstopper, making his 100th appearance for Russia, using his legs to prevent Ronaldo’s close range shot from going in.
Russia’s hopes on the other end rested on Fedor Smolov and when finally, after 40 minutes, they came out of Portugal’s siege, he went horribly wide with a first-time shot following a quick counterattack.
Portugal’s domination continued in the second half and within five minutes of the restart, Akinfeev pulled off a stunning save, diving to his right to get fingertips on a header by Andre Silva which seemed destined for the bottom corner.
Eight minutes later, Silva saw another header virtually headed off the line by Georgy Dzikiya. Past the hour mark, a Ronaldo header off Andre Gomes’ cross sailed wide.
Those chances for Portugal probably fired up Russia. And with the introduction of Dmitry Poloz, they came back at Portugal with the crowd firmly behind them. Smolov had a few chances but couldn’t connect with either his head or feet. The pressure almost paid off in injury time when Dzhikya’s header from a corner went narrowly above the crossbar.
And Portugal and Ronaldo held on for a crucial victory.