Portugal take vital victory in Lisbon

Portugal restored the hopes of a nation by defeating ten-man Russia 2-0 in Group A at Lisbon's Estadio da Luz on Wednesday evening.

Nuno Maniche's early goal sent the hosts on their way to their first win in the group before substitute Rui Costa scored a late second goal, as Russia played the second half a man short after goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov was sent off for handling the ball outside the box.

Luiz Felipe Scolari made three changes in his backline for the clash with the Eastern Europeans, with Fernando Couto sacrificed for Ricardo Carvalho, while FC Porto's midfield maestro Deco was brought in for Rui Costa.

Russian coach Georgi Yartsev, on the other hand, started a youthful and under-strength side on Wednesday evening, having recently thrown out Alexander Mostovoi for comments he made after their opening match defeat to Spain in the Algarve.

The home side, desperate in need of a win after the shock defeat to Greece, were the brightest side from the kick-off and that early pressure soon paid dividends on seven minutes - thanks to work from two Porto players.

Luis Figo's free kick into Russia's box was partially cleared to Deco, who whipped in a low cross to Maniche and with a fine first touch to get a step on defender Vadim Evseev, he slotted home his first international goal with a right foot shot that brought joyous relief to the Portuguese faithful.

The goal settled the hosts down and they continued to apply most of the pressure in the opening half, with Luis Figo looking far brighter than in the opening match against the Greeks.

It was the Real Madrid star who nearly found Pedro Pauleta with a fine cross from the right that just missed the striker's head in front of goal.

Deco himself was causing the Russians plenty of problems with his movement forward, having squandered a chance with a mis-hit volley over the bar from Nuno Valente's deflected cross.

Russia showed little threat after going behind, as front man Dmitry Alenichev was finding the Portuguese new-look backline holding firm, while Dmitri Loskov and Andrei Karyaka squandered free kick opportunities that were their best goalscoring chances of the half.

Then just before half time, Russia had a second man sent off in as many matches after goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov was adjudged by Norwegian referee Terje Hauge to have handled a poor back bass on the edge of the box.

Ovchinnikov was forced to challenge for the ball with the onrushing Pauleta when his arm seemingly made contact with the ball, bringing an immediate red card from referee Hauge.

Substitute custodian Viatcheslav Malafeev came on for midfielder Yevgeny Aldonin and his first duty was to see Figo shoot the resulting free kick just wide, as Portugal took their one-goal lead into the break.

The second half saw Portugal surging forward with the extra man while ten-man Russia, to their credit, were prepared to work for an equaliser.

Malafeev was called on to save from Nuno Valente before needing to get down to central swerving free kick from Deco and another solid shot from the Brazilian-born player.

The Zenit St Petersburg keeper then made a fine save by tipping Figo's side foot shot onto the post after substitute striker Nuno Gomes set him up and Deco then squandered the rebound by hitting his shot over the bar.

Before retiring with 11 minutes left, Karyaka kept Portugal's backline honest with a shot across the face of Ricardo Pereira's goal and then tested the hands of the Benfica custodian with a rasping drive.

Russia brought on Vladimir Bystrov and Dmitri Bulykin and they gave Portuguese supporters concern with some quality attacking threat, but it was to bring no reward in the end.

The hosts finally ended the match as a contest when two substitutes set up the second goal, as a fine Cristiano Ronaldo cross found the onrushing Rui Costa to seal a Portugal win and end Russia's hopes.

The result means that Portugal must get a win in their last group match against Spain while Greece need just a point against the Russia to secure qualification for the knockout stages following their draw earlier in the day with the Spaniards.

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