Capello's Russia stop Ronaldo's Portugal
PARIS, France (AFP) — Russia maintained their perfect start to 2014 World Cup qualifying while Sweden had to dig deep to prevent a major upset in the Faroe Islands in early action across Europe yesterday.
Elsewhere, former champions Italy came away from their trip to Yerevan with a 3-1 win over a spirited Armenia, and the Czech Republic saw off minnows Malta by the same scoreline.
Fabio Capello's Russia earned their first ever win over Portugal in the post-Soviet era courtesy of Alexander Kerzhakov's first half goal in Moscow to put them on nine points after their opening three qualifiers.
The 2018 World Cup hosts, who agonisingly missed out on the 2010 finals on away goals to Slovenia in the play-offs, took sole possession at the top of Group F, with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal now placed second, three points behind.
Zenit Saint Petersburg's free-scoring striker Kerzhakov ensured the win when he beat Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio from the edge of the box in the sixth minute.
"Today I saw exactly that team which I saw in training over the last week," former England boss Capello said.
"My players came on to the pitch today filled with fighting spirit and gave 100 percent for this win. I'm really happy with my team's performance. I'd like to thank our fans for their support in this tough match."
Portugal manager Paolo Bento said he was satisfied with his team's performance but not the result.
"I can't say that we looked bad tonight," Bento said. "In general we played a good match. We reacted well on the goal we conceded and we followed the plan which we worked out before the match.
"Russia played a great match but I think the result wasn't fair as I know my team is capable of playing top quality football. We came here to win and are really upset now."
Russia's goal hero Kerzhakov added: "Both our team and Portugal want to get an automatic qualification for the World Cup. But today we wanted to win a little bit more. It's a very important win for us."
Cesare Prandelli's Italy were living dangerously for a time in Yerevan when Henrikh Mkhitaryan cancelled out Andrea Pirlo's 11th-minute penalty but second half goals from Daniele de Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo earned Italy the win to give them a seven-point haul from a possible nine in Group B.
In Torshavn, the Faroe Islands went into a shock lead over Sweden, a massive 131 rungs above their humble hosts in FIFA's world rankings.
Rogvi Baldvinsson, who had a fleeting two-week spell with Bristol Rovers this year before cutting short his stay with the English League two outfit citing personal reasons, set up the possibility of a major shock in the 57th minute.
But Sweden's nerves held, with Fulham winger Alex Kacaniklic levelling eight minutes later and Paris Saint Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic saving Sweden's blushes to bag the nervy 2-1 win with quarter of an hour to go.