World Cup Qualifying: Russia Strike Early, Hold on to Beat Portugal

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2012

WROCLAW, POLAND - JUNE 08:  Aleksandr Kerzhakov of Russia runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group A match between Russia and Czech Republic at The Municipal Stadium on June 8, 2012 in Wroclaw, Poland.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The first match in UEFA World Cup qualifying to kick off on Friday was one that had plenty of importance in who would automatically qualify out of Group F.

Russia played host to Portugal at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in a match that saw the hosts win 1-0 in a battle of the two favorites to win the qualifying group.

Much of the attention going into the match, as it always is when Portugal plays anyone, was on the captain of the Portuguese side, Cristiano Ronaldo.

After the match, the attention was on the Russian defense that defended their lead brilliantly against a powerful Portuguese attack.

Russia were able to sit back and defend because of the early lead that they took in the sixth minute.

Alexander Kerzhakov finished off a stunning string of passes that fooled the Portuguese defense and left the striker wide open in front of Portugal keeper Rui Patricio to score the only goal of the night.

For the rest of the match, most of Russia's attacks came on the counter attack as they were defending the onslaught of Portuguese shots.

Portugal's best chances came in the minutes after the Russian goal as they earned a few corner kicks, with the best chance coming from Bruno Alves in the 15th minute.

Alves' header was on target but it was saved by Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev, who made his most important save of the night on the defender.

The second half saw Portugal get very few good chances on net and was highlighted by the continuous complaining to the referee by Ronaldo.

Once the final whistle was blown by Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai, the celebrations began in the stands and on the pitch as the Russians knew they secured the most important three points of World Cup qualifying.

With the win, Russia moved to first in the Group F table with nine points, and more importantly a head-to-head tiebreaker on Portugal.

After the loss, Portugal still sit in second place in the table with six points and they will most likely have to win all of their matches against the other four nations in the group ahead of their rematch with Russia in June.

The next matches for both nations will occur on Tuesday as Russia will stay at home to host Azerbaijan while Portugal will head home to Porto to host Northern Ireland.