Man of the Match: With an early goal allowing Russia to play a very controlled match, the hosts were a series of above average if unspectacular performances. Still, there was one performance that should be particularly heartening to Russia supporters. Although Sergei Ignashevich may only have been slightly better than his teammates, the veteran defender showed a glimpse of a second life under Fabio Capello.
Ignashevich has always been a quality player, but under previous regimes he was often left exposed, the 33-year-old often found lacking after having his speed tested. Today, Russia’s organization left the veteran CSKA defender with clean up duty, his clearances (often aerial) helping to preserve the host’s control of the day.
Is it too simplistic to draw a line between Ignashevich and John Terry? They both veteran defenders who serve as cornerstones for teams Capello’s inherited, and in each case, their only flaw was deteriorating foot speed. Terry proved effective for England. Can Ignashevich be a similar, prolonged linchpin with Russia?
Packaged for takeaway:
- It was a big win for Russia, if not necessarily an upset. Beating Portugal at home would have been expected when the draw came out, but for a team under a new regime, the result was a proof of concept.
- That concept: A less free-wheeling Russia. Capello played a 4-2-3-1 (versus Portugal’s typical 4-3-3) that, consistent with the coach’s philosophies, was more opportunistic than persuasive.
- Under Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, Russia had been a team that often controlled the ball (consistent with those coaches’ philosophies), but in their first big game under Fabio Capello, the Russians proved capable of playing with out it.
- That’s bigger news than it sounds. Before Capello, you’d expect Russia to eventually break down when they weren’t controlling the game. Even when they dominated the ball, there where still mistake prone (as evidenced in Euro 2012 and their playoff against Slovenia in 2010 World Cup qualifying). Early on, Capello’s solved that problem.
- Of course, the early goal helped. A great, swift movement in the sixth minute saw play move from Viktor Fayzulin to Roman Shirokov, the Zenit midfielder hitting Aleksandr Kerzakhov with a through ball that put his club teammate on goal. Rui Patricio made an early dive right, leaving his net open for the match’s only goal.
- Perhaps predictably (given 84 minutes to chase an equalizer), Portugal went on to dominate possession. With Russia’s defense preventing the Seleccao from establishing any fluidity, Portugal was only able to get five shots on Igor Akinfeev despite holding 66 percent of the Opta possession.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s mood was the barometer. When his team is executing, he’s quieted by his determined. When his side becomes disjointed and can’t connect, that determination creates a mask of confusion, anger and betrayal, a look that was plastered on Ronaldo’s face at the Luzhniki.
- Ronaldo’s standout moment came with the ball 40 yards away. On the left wing, he tried to make a far post run but took only a step before colliding with Russia right back Aleksandr Anyukov. Despite being three inches taller and (likely) 15-20 pounds heavier, Ronaldo went down in pain, rolling around as if his nose had been broken. You can imagine Anyukov’s confusion.
- Once his simulation was done, Ronaldo looked up at the referee, flashed a forehead full of black rubber pellets, and implicitly asked why his lovely performance couldn’t draw a whistle, let alone a card.
- The win keeps Russia perfect at the top of Group F: 3-0-0. They’ve yet to allow a goal, and with few challenges among the packet’s four other teams, Russia should maintain control of the group through their June trip to Lisbon.
- For Portugal, the pressure is on not to drop points . If they do, Fabio Capello’s squad can almost guarantee a trip to Brazil with a draw at the Estadio da Luz, with Portugal again left to navigate the playoff round.