Russia manager Fabio Capello has said that he intended to reverse the squad's knack of losing big matches by taking the game to Portugal during their top-of-the-table 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier in Moscow.
Friday's showdown at the nearly sold-out Luzhniki Stadium has been billed as a "decider" by a Russian media that is ominously recalling the 7-1 thrashing Portugal delivered in another 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2004. The Italian veteran acknowledged that Russia had a history of losing big matches that must be instantly reversed.
"We should not be calling this match a decider," Capello said through a Russian translator. "But we have all the incentive - we should be ready to win a big match."
Both Russia and Portugal boast a maximum six points from their opening two matches and stand five points clear of their four group rivals. Russia have not given up a goal in their wins against Northern Ireland and Israel while Portugal will be keen to see back Cristiano Ronaldo after he suffered a shoulder injury in Real Madrid's 2-2 draw with Barcelona last weekend.
Capello said he was expecting a "quality" match and called Ronaldo's current form the best of his life. "He is closer to winning the Ballon d'Or (best world player award) than he ever has been at any point in his life," said the Italian. "To be honest, I was hoping that his injury from the Barcelona match was more serious than it really is," he joked.
Portugal's arrival has generated a buzz of excitement in Moscow that has been missing from the squad's previous matches. Nearly three-quarters of the 90,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium was sold out by the start of the week. Capello said that he was glad to get the chance to again play before a full stadium after a career as the boss of England and European powerhouses such as Juventus and AC Milan.
"The only thing about Russian stadiums is that none of them except for the one at Zenit (Saint Petersburg) get filled," Capello said. "Players get an added energy boost from the fans. We would feel tremendous responsibility if 70,000 came out to Luzhniki."