- *Corners could work in the hosts’ favour tomorrow *
- *Russia’s focal point in attack Fyodor Smolov has been unstoppable recently *
- The crowd at the Spartak Stadium will be the 12th man
By Igor Borunov with Russia
European champions Portugal are viewed as the favourites going into Wednesday’s game against the hosts, especially following Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb performance against Mexico on Sunday. However, there are a few reasons why Russia can cause an upset against the eighth-best side in the world according to the FIFA/Coca-Cola Ranking.
*Russia’s supremacy in the air *Before the tournament, head coach Stanislav Cherchesov identified set pieces as one of the Sbornaya’s biggest threats. Russia scored from a dead-ball situation in three consecutive warm-up matches ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 – against Belgium, Hungary and Chile – and centre-back Viktor Vasin is proving especially dangerous in the air, with two goals in his last four appearances.
Vasin came inches away from improving his goalscoring record in the seventh minute of the Opening Match against New Zealand on Saturday, when he nodded Aleksandr Samedov’s corner onto the post. As for Portugal, Fernando Santos’ players actually conceded from a corner late on against Mexico, Hector Moreno leaping highest in the box to salvage a draw.
*Smolov is on fire *Striker Fyodor Smolov wholly repaid the faith shown in him against the All Whites, coming away with the award for Man of the Match. He started and finished off the move that made it 2-0 in the second half and also completed more successful dribbles (nine) than anyone else in the first round of fixtures.
This follows back-to-back seasons in which Smolov has finished top of the goalscoring charts in the Russian Premier League. Over the past two years, he has scored 55 goals in all competitions, including six for the national team. Nevertheless, he is modest when it comes to his achievements. "I don’t consider myself a hero at all and we haven’t achieved anything just yet," he told FIFA.com. "We’ve beaten New Zealand; now let’s get ready for a tough encounter with Portugal."
*Phenomenal support at the Spartak Stadium *More than 50,000 fans cheered Russia on during the Opening Match in Saint Petersburg and, while the capacity at the Spartak Stadium is a little lower, the support is expected to be even more passionate.
The excitement around the Portugal game has been simmering in Russia for a long time and a sell-out was announced well before the start of the tournament. The Spartak Stadium is sure to be bouncing on Wednesday, especially after the positive start against New Zealand.
It is also worth remembering this arena is home to champions, as Spartak Moscow won the Russian title here for the first time in 16 years just a few months ago. The local crowd is therefore used to the winning feeling. The Red-Whites have the largest contingent of players in the national team (five) and the likes of Denis Glushakov and Aleksandr Samedov are no strangers to scoring great goals on their home turf.