Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo attends a training session in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium October 11, 2012. Portugal face Russia on Friday for their World Cup 2014 Group F qualifier. (Photo : REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP) )
UEFA enters day three of qualifications for the 2014 World Cup with a match between Russia and Portugal.
The two heavy weights of Group F enter the match with two big wins and looking in top form. Everyone expects these two teams to be the top two in the group, but the runner-up will have to win in the playoff, which is far from ideal.
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Russia must be thrilled to have their first shot at Portugal on home turf. They dispatched Northern Ireland 2-0 with goals from Viktor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov on September 7th. Their second match was even better as they destroyed Israel 4-0 on September 11. In that match they got goals from Fayzulin, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, and Aleksandr Koroin. Everyone knows they are a powerhouse but many question the unity of this club. Club team Zenit St. Petersburg imploded with locker room issues and many question whether these might carry over to the big squad. The Euro Cup 2012 performance (in which they exited in the group stage) is still in the public consciousness and this team will be determined to make everyone forget about it.
Their rivals however will try to prove that they are among the world's elite clubs. Portugal saw a strong Euro Cup 2012 run end at the hands of Spain, but they slowly diminished those results with two questionable matches against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Against Luxembourg they fell behind but Cristiano Ronaldo died the match before Helder Postiga won it. Against Azerbaijan they could not find the net until the 63rd minute and then the flood gates opened in a 3-0 win. Silvestre Varela, Postiga, and Bruno Alves were the scorers. Postiga leads the team in qualifying goals though more is expected from Ronaldo and Nani. Both of these stars were mediocre against Azerbaijan and will need to be on top form to win this match against their toughest test yet. Fortunately for them, Ronaldo has been red hot of late.
X-Factor: Anytime Cristiano Ronaldo dons his nation's sweater he is the automatic x-factor in the match. He has an equal chance of taking over a game or redefining invisibility on the pitch. He is by far the best player for Portugal and if he is a threat, the rest of the team will follow. If he is invisible, the rest of the team will be forced to create on their own; something they are not always adept at. More important is Ronaldo's shoudler. Is he recovered and ready to play? And if not, how good will he be with the pain? Those are major issues that must be resolved if Portugal wants a chance in this match.
Prediction: Russia is at home and in form. But Ronaldo has been a scoring machine over the last few weeks with Real Madrid. With the Ballon D'Or voting approaching his motivation to outperform Lionel Messi on the national stage should propel his play to divine heights. Portugal and Russia draw in this one though: 2-2 with Ronaldo scoring both Portuguese goals.
Start Time: 11 AM