Rui Costa settles hosts as Russia head for the exit

Russia 0 Portugal 2
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The Independent Football

Seven minutes was all it required on Saturday for Greece to begin exposing fractures in Portugal's morale and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's strategy. Here, it required the same time for a splendid goal from Maniche to start the sealing process - at least in the eyes of the proud host nation until Sunday, where their team face the tantalising prospect of a confrontation with Iberian rivals Spain. The prize for Portugal is progress to the quarter-finals. Failure will result in an ignominious exit.

Even if group leaders, Greece, are defeated by Russia, also on Sunday night, Portugal would still need to overcome Spain to secure a quarter-final place, probably against France. Scolari was in no mood to contemplate that possibility: "There isn't even time to imagine what's going to happen," he said of Sunday's contest. "Now, it's living this moment, talk a bit with the players, review the tape, see where we made errors, because Spain are very worthy opponents."

Scolari applauded the heavens for that exquisite early goal, fashioned by the extravagantly-gifted but erratic Brazilian-born Deco, the player omitted from the starting line-up against Greece. But thereafter Portugal were still determined to stretch his patience - opposed for the second half by 10 men after Russia goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov had been dismissed before the interval.

It required 88 minutes for substitute Rui Costa, the player cast as the culprit by many for Saturday's defeat, to settle his coach's distinct unease with a second, as Russia became the first team to be eliminated and extended an unwanted European Championship finals sequence to a record eight games without victory.

Scolari's reaction to the opening game defeat by Greece had been a bout of blood-letting, with four players relegated to the bench. As had been widely anticipated, Chelsea's new acquisition Paulo Ferreira was relegated in favour of Miguel, while the possibly Stamford Bridge-bound Deco replaced Rui Costa. Ricardo Carvalho, so impressive for Porto, reinforced the central rearguard at the expense of Portugal's most-capped player Couto, with Luis Figo re-assuming the captaincy.

Portugal began with purpose and when Deco stroked an incisive ball to his Porto team-mate Maniche the midfielder swivelled and drove the ball past Ovchinnikov. The relief around the stadium was palpable.

The first period offered a far more pleasing performance from his team for Scolari to dwell on at the break, with Figo causing problems from both flanks, Simao Sabrosa and Deco both intimidating presences, and Pauleta a constant threat. Just before the interval, Ovchinnikov dashed out to thwart Pauleta. He appeared to handle a yard outside the area and he was dismissed. As he was being replaced by Viacheslav Malafeev, a Russia supporter had to be restrained as he attempted to remonstrate with the fourth official. Figo wasted the ensuing free-kick.

Malafeev, who had replaced defensive midfielder Evgeni Aldonin, was given an early examination by Carvalho, but turned his venomous 25-yarder away. After a flowing move which culminated in local hero, Benfica's Nuno Gomes creating an open invitation for Figo, the Real Madrid man struck the far post. Deco delivered the rebound into the stands.

Figo was replaced by Ronaldo, and the Manchester United man contributed to the goal that confirmed Portugal's victory, receiving the ball on the left from Rui Costa, and then crossing for the Milan playmaker to convert easily. At last, Scolari could relax - until Sunday.

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