Lisbon on Tuesday plays host to an enticing first round match between Euro giants SL Benfica and FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Group C Champions League action. PortugalFutbol.net has combined forces with our Russian counterparts at RussianFootballNews.com to provide you with a comprehensive preview of this clash of titans. Continue reading
Siena to Zenit
After months of speculation regarding his future, Luis Neto has finally made the move away from Siena. A number of teams were reportedly interested in signing the defender, including Juventus, Roma, Dinamo Moscow, and Fenerbahce. Neto, however, has chosen to move to the snow-covered fields of Russia to meet up with fellow countrymen Bruno Alves and Danny at Zenit St. Petersburg. The Russian season has not yet begun, as the country is gripped by a bitter winter. If Neto can replicate the form that earned him plaudits at Siena, he will have no problem holding down a starting spot at Zenit. The price? 6 million Euros.
Russia 1-0 Portugal
A first half goal from Aleksandr Kerzhakov was enough for Russia to earn a narrow 1-0 victory over a sub-par Portuguese side. This win ensured that Russia remains undefeated in Group F, and as a result of the loss, Portugal slips into second in the group.
There was an air of uncertainty surrounding Portugal prior to the start of the match, due to the questionable fitness of Raul Meireles, Pepe, and Ronaldo. Pepe and Ronaldo were able to shake of their minor injuries to start the match, but Raul Meireles was not as lucky. The starting lineup was the usual one, with Patricio in goal, Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao on the defensive flanks, and Pepe and Bruno Alves paired up in the center of the defense. Due to his injury, Raul Meireles was relegated to the bench, with Ruben Micael sliding in to replace him. Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho joined Micael to complete the midfield. Up top was Nani, Ronaldo, and Helder Postiga, the usual suspects.
The game started well for Portugal, but very quickly turned sour when Russia scored on virtually their first attack. A quick counterattack caught Portugal off guard, and Russia made the score 1-0. From that point on, Portugal’s game-plan was that of catch-up, while Russia seemed, for the most part, to be content with expertly absorbing the Portuguese attacks. Ronaldo and Bruno Alves underlined Portugal’s intent by drawing two stellar saves out of the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, but Russia’s defense was prepared for everything the Seleccao threw at them. Portugal looked sharp, however, and an equalizer did not look too unlikely. Fabio Coentrao hobbled off injured after just 20 minutes of play, weakening Portugal’s attack. The half ended at 1-0, with Portugal wondering how they had not yet scored.
Russia came out in the second half raring to go, while Portugal surprisingly looked off the pace and lethargic. One would think that after Portugal fell behind, they would come out of the gates ready to go, but that was not the case. The second half was decidedly a Russia affair, with only sharp saves from Rui Patricio saving Portugal’s blushes. Even the inclusion of Silvestre Varela (lately dubbed at Portugal’s supersub) and Eder (has scored four goals this season for Braga) could not turn the tides.
Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao(Miguel Lopes), Ruben Micael(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)
Man of the Match: Bruno Alves
Flop of the Match: Helder Postiga
FIFA announced earlier this week the qualification groups for the 2014 World Cup, slated to be held in Brazil. Portugal drew a seemingly easy group with Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, and Luxembourg. This group seems easier than the ones in the immediate past, but, as we have learned, Portugal has a knack of making a mess of things. Hopefully, under Paulo Bento, those days are over. Russia will be the most likely to give the team a run for their money, and Israel has an outside chance of doing just the same.
Manuel Da Costa scored a brace in Lokomotiv Moscow’s 4-2 win over Zenit on Saturday. A Zenit side featuring Danny and Bruno Alves went into the locker room ahead 2-0 at the interval, but the game changed soon after. Obinna and Caicedo, both of whom were picked up in the off-season, scored to level the scores at 2-2. The scoreline didn’t stay that way for very long, however, as Manuel Da Costa leaped above Zenit’s goalkeeper to nod the ball into the net. Da Costa furthered Zenit’s pain when he smartly dove in for the header at the backpost from a corner kick. Such a comeback is rarely seen in football, especially against such a team as Zenit, and Manuel Da Costa will have to take some of the credit. Da Costa moved from recently-relegated West Ham to the Russian side this summer, and has since settled in just fine, as evidenced with his showing this weekend.
The qualification draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup was today, and Portugal have been drawn in a slightly difficult group. Portugal were drawn in Group 6 alongside Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, and Luxembourg. This group may not seem very hard, but Russia may give us a run for our money.
Russia’s squad performed well at Euro 2008, but since has not lived up to those performances, failing to qualify for last summer’s World Cup. Russia will look to Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin and Tottenham’s Roman Pavlyuchenko for any attacking flair, while their leading midfielder, Konstantin Zyryanov, is getting on in years, currently at 33. Israel will be a little less tricky, with their main attacking threat coming through Benayoun, Ben Sahar, and Eran Zahavi. Portugal has only played Israel once before, with that game ending in a 2-1 win for the Seleccao. Northern Ireland have caused some upsets in various qualification campaigns in the past, so Portugal may need to look out for that, while Azerbaijan and Luxembourg pose little to no threat at all.