Portugal defeated Russia 1-0. The Daily Mail:” It is when another piece of silverware beckons that we see Cristiano Ronaldo in the raw, free of the machinations and the politics.
This was his 53rd game of the season and it was still his own show, as he danced around the wooden defence of the host nation, instructing his team-mates where to stand and where to run, having given Portugal a lead which they never looked like relinquishing.
The goal, eight minutes in, revealed which of these nations looks like a World Cup commodity on current standing.
The defender Raphael Guerreiro arced a cross from the left, the trajectory of which left Fedor Kudryashov struggling desperately. Ronaldo just waited patiently behind him, leaping just enough to dispatch a header past Igor Akinfeev.
He wasn’t finished by a long way. The game was half an hour old when the 32-year-old’s dancing feet were doing for Viktor Vasin, who was sent this way and that by his feints.
The shot Ronaldo then dispatched was blocked by the left shin of Igor Akinfeev. Russia have a goalkeeper of quality, at least.
It wasn’t a one-man show from the European Champions. Manchester City’s summer acquisition Bernardo Silva impressed with his quick feet and eye for space in narrow pockets, allowing Cedric Soares to attack the flanks outside him.
But there is something supremely transfixing about Ronaldo in the arena such as this – the grimaces, closed eyes and searches for the camera.
They telegraphed every hope and frustration of a game which most players who began this season on September 10 could hardly be bothered with.
He could have doubled the advantage just beyond the hour, leaping for a header which was within his ambit but screwing it wide of Akinfeev’s right post.
The goalkeeper had already saved the nation’s fragile hold on the game by then – leaping to claw away Andre Silva’s header after Porto midfielder had leapt above Georgy Dzhikya.
The host nation’s defence certainly looked vulnerable – worrying for a side which has been asked by President Vladimir Putin to make the Russian nation proud.
There were muffled boos from the Russian support when the goal went in, though the support seized on every source of hope in the second half with the terrace-to-terrace counter chanting which is popular in this country.
There was talk before this tournament of coach Stanislav Cherchesov building a new, young Russia out of domestically-based players but there was age in a team that laboured.
The left-sided 21-year-old Aleksandr Golovin offered flashes of the talent which makes him the great Russian hope for 2018 but otherwise Cherchesov was banking on 30-year-old Denis Glushakov, 33-year-old Yuri Zhirkov and 32-year-old Aleksandr Samedov.
Cherchesov would have been helped if his striker Fedor Smolov, Russia’s main asset against a weak New Zealand in the tournament’s opening fixture, could have delivered. But his sidefooted effort wide just before half time and bad miss from a Samedov cross the other side of half-time.
The Russians began to make some more inroads in the last 20 minutes but barely troubled Rui Patricio. Dhikya headed over form a corner at the death.
Their tournament is not over, though Mexico in their last group game will be tricky. It is Portugal and Chile are the teams who look most intent on winning this competition – with the South Americans having brought 2,000 supporters with them.
Twelve months on from his European Championship success, Ronaldo plainly has his eyes on the right to call himself one of the world’s team of continental champions.