Ronaldo heads Portugal to 1-0 win over Russia at Confed Cup
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 22, 2017 09:44 AM
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the field at the end of the Confederations Cup, Group A soccer match between Russia and Portugal, at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
By James Ellingsworth, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo set aside his legal troubles to score the winning goal for Portugal on Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over hosts Russia in the Confederations Cup.
However, the win was bittersweet as Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro was hospitalized with a suspected leg fracture.
Ronaldo headed Portugal in front in the eighth minute at Moscow's Spartak Stadium. The European champions struggled to kill off the game despite several chances and could have conceded when Georgy Dzhikiya headed narrowly over in stoppage time.
A day after Ronaldo was summoned to court in Spain over allegations relating to a complex tax fraud, his goal was simple. He found space on the right flank and crept in behind defender Fyodor Kudryashov to head in Guerreiro's lofted cross at the far post.
It could have been 2-0 in the 50th if not for Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, playing his 100th international game, and his acrobatic one-handed save to keep out Andre Silva's header.
"We played against a team playing at home, with a home crowd, a team that pressured us but we were better," Ronaldo said.
Ronaldo took no questions from the media and did not comment on his legal issues. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Portugal's tournament hopes took a blow with a possible broken leg for Guerreiro, who was substituted in the 65th after limping off injured.
"Raphael went to hospital, we think he might have fractured his leg," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. "He's a top quality player and, personally, this might have an impact on his new season as well. We're sad about that, and let's see what the exam results tell us."
Santos praised his team for their dedication under pressure to hold on to the lead. "This team, when they have to sacrifice themselves, they do that," he said.
Russia failed to register a shot on target, though Fyodor Smolov should have done better when he sliced a shot wide from a good position shortly before half-time.
On a chilly Moscow evening, Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov set up his team defensively, putting right-back Roman Shishkin into a midfield role, but his plans were upended after just eight minutes when Ronaldo headed in Portugal's opener.
Portugal outplayed Russia comprehensively for the rest of the half but created no clear-cut chances, Ronaldo going closest.
The Russians barely made it into the Portuguese half for long periods of the opening 45 minutes, and only came remotely close to scoring with Smolov's mishit effort off Alexander Golovin's cross.
Besides the Andre Silva header saved by Akinfeev, the Portuguese also threatened to score a second when Ronaldo headed wide in the 63rd and blasted a shot over the bar shortly after.
The Russians made attacking substitutions and pushed forward, testing the Portuguese defense with balls over the top, but often left themselves open on the counter.
Russia threw men forward in search of a late equalizer, but came no closer than Dzhikiya's header over the bar.
The win leaves Portugal in a strong position on four points in Group A with just a game against outsiders New Zealand remaining Saturday. Russia has three points and must face Mexico next, though Cherchesov was upbeat about his team's chances of reaching the semifinals.
"There's nothing better than when it all depends on you," he said. "We have a clear understanding of what we need to do."