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September 07 2005.
World Cup-2006 qualifying game.
Moscow. Lokomotiv stadium. 28800.
Referee: Markus Merk (Germany).
Russia: Igor Akinfeev; Alexei Berezutsky, Dmitry Sennikov, Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutsky, Marat Izmailov (Sergei Semak, 74), Alexei Smertin (c), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Yevgeny Aldonin, Andrei Arshavin (Alexander Anyukov, 88), Alexander Kerzakov.
Head Coach Yuri Syomin.
Portugal: Ricardo Pereira; Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Andrade, Francisco Costinha, Luis Figo (c), Nuno Valente, Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nuno Maniche (Joao Moutinho, 81) , Deco (Simao Sabrosa, 77), Pedro Pauleta (Helder Postiga, 68).
Head Coach coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazil).
Yellow Cards: Yevgeny Aldonin (33), Deco (31), Alexei Smertin (35), Ricardo Carvalho (48), Pedro Pauleta (66), Luis Figo (78).
Red Card: Alexei Smertin (44 - 2nd yellow card).


Portugal's Luis Figo, center, being challenged by Russia's Alexei Smertin, left, and Yevgeny Aldonin, right, during Wednesday's match at Lokomotiv Stadium.

A 10-man Russian side held out for a 0-0 draw against Portugal on Wednesday at Lokomotiv Stadium in a result that did it no favors in its fight for a place in the World Cup finals but still left it with a fighting chance of qualifying.

Captain Alexei Smertin was harshly sent off just before halftime for a second bookable offense, but to its credit, Russia held off the Portuguese, who fielded much the same star-studded team -- with players such as Figo, Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo -- that beat Russia 7-1 last November.

"I have big hopes that we can reach the finals," coach Yury Syomin said after the game. "The players wanted to win. Today's game showed that we can play on the same level as the vice champions of Europe."

Portugal's Deco, left, and Russia's Yevgeny Aldonin, right

Portugal's Deco, left, and Russia's Yevgeny Aldonin, right, challenge for the ball.
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.

With Slovakia's game against Latvia finishing 1-1 on Wednesday, Russia will almost certainly have to beat the Slovaks in Bratislava in its last game on Oct. 12 to get one of the playoff spots, which are handed to the second-place finishers in each group.

The Russian team's fate has been entwined with Portugal over the 18 months from a 2-0 defeat in the Euro 2004 that knocked it out of the tournament to the humiliating 7-1 defeat in Lisbon last year, which ushered in Syomin as coach.

With Dynamo Moscow more Portuguese than many of Portuguese league sides and Dynamo's Portuguese midfielder Maniche making less-than-flattering remarks about the Russian Premier League a few days ago, the game had a certain grudge factor. As Maniche misplaced a pass, one fan said: "See, the Russian league has taught him something."

One tier of the stadium saw fans dressed in red, white and blue as part of an "I Love Russia" event that also included an attempt to set a world record for the singing of the anthem.

Even before the sending off, Russia had been pushed back after a promising 20 minutes that saw it play the ball around, with strong runs coming from Smertin and Marat Izmailov, until Portugal's class began to show. With only one attacker, Syomin had picked a defense-minded side, but neither team looked particularly set to score, with Portugal reduced to shooting from outside the box and never threatening the Russian goal. Alexander Kerzhakov had the best chance after a typical St. Petersburg connection with his Zenit teammate Andrei Arshavin. Kerzhakov dropped a shot from just outside the box for Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira to tip over.

Ronaldo, playing despite his father's recent death, caused Russia's defense innumerable problems, and it was a foul on Ronaldo that gave Smertin his first yellow -- and one on Deco that earned him the second. However, neither foul looked malicious enough to warrant a yellow card.

"Deco had no right to behave as if he had been killed," Syomin said.

His expulsion opened up the game in the second half. Although Portugal dominated, with Ronaldo getting a number of shots and a header on target, Russia, with its most dangerous player, Arshavin, again to the fore, was able to create more chances on the break than in the whole of the first half. Diniyar Bilyatedinov even pulled off a zig-zag run from midfield that Ronaldo would have been proud of -- although it did not lead to a clear chance, much like many of the Manchester United winger's runs.

With the draw, Russia has 19 points in 10 games, with Portugal five points ahead and almost certain to claim automatic qualification. Russia, its chances for qualification growing slimmer by the game, hosts Luxembourg on October 8.

By Kevin O'FLYNN. The Moscow Times, September 8, 2005

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