Fedor Smolov insists he is no “hero” as Confederations Cup hosts Russia prepare to take on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on Wednesday.
Krasnodar striker Smolov has been the leading scorer in Russia’s top flight for the past two campaigns and capped a man-of-the-match display with the second goal as Stanislav Cherchesov’s side overcame the All Whites 2-0 in Saint Petersburg in the tournament opener.
His performance has seen his face adorn every newspaper in the country since but he accepts a far sterner test now awaits in the shape of Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Pepe and Co.
Smolov told FIFA.com: “We have to prepare for Portugal in a serious way, they have one of the best players in the world [Ronaldo], and I think we need to make a good start in this match.
“We can’t just attack and not think about the defence though. We need to be clever, and play on the counter – combining all styles of play.
“We will play as the head coach demands. He will prepare us and give us a gameplan that we will try to execute.”
— #ConfedCup (@FIFAcom) June 17, 2017
Reflecting on Saturday’s display, and his new status, he added: “I do not feel like a hero, we have not done anything yet, this was just the first match.
“We beat New Zealand but we must now prepare for a big confrontation with Portugal.”
Saturday’s win against rank outsiders New Zealand may have raised few eyebrows but it was impressive purely for the fact the pressure was squarely on Cherchesov and his players.
With president Vladimir Putin watching on from the stands, having given a warning two days previously that he expected better from the team, Russia had to deliver.
— Сборная ,оссии (@TeamRussia) June 19, 2017
Ahead of the Portugal match, the Kremlin opted for a softer stance with deputy prime minister and president of the Russian Football Union Vitaly Mutko admitting the team’s remaining Group A matches would be far more difficult.
Speaking after watching Portugal and Mexico play out an entertaining 2-2 draw, Mutko told TASS: “It was a match between two interesting teams, very sophisticated, mobile and technical.
“They played out a result that leaves no room for further mistakes. So, matches with them are going to be quite uneasy. Portugal has many good players along with Ronaldo. It was an interesting game, speedy. I liked it as many football fans did.”
As usual, Ronaldo was the centre of attention in Kazan in his team’s opener, with Portugal denied victory by Hector Moreno’s late header.
With speculation about his Real Madrid future capturing headlines around the world, Ronaldo was ushered away from the waiting media with FIFA seemingly happy for him to skip the obligatory man of the match news conference.
Opening goalscorer Quaresma, who benefited from a lovely Ronaldo pass, did speak briefly on his team-mate and long-time friend.
“Cris will be a friend for life,” he said. “My desire is that he continues to be the best in the world and that we can give deliver him more titles.”
As for Portugal, Quaresma is confident the Selecao can back up their surprise Euro 2016 title in France last year with success in Russia, adding: “We have a lot of youngsters with a lot of talent and quality.
“We also have experienced, talented players who have played football around the world. This is a great team. We have a fantastic team spirit and that is what is making us win games.”
Key Opta stats:
– These sides have met 10 times previously with Portugal winning half of those encounters and Russia winning three times (D2).
– The last three matches between Russia and Portugal have all been won 1-0 by the team playing on home soil (Russia W2, Portugal W1).
– There have been 23 goals scored in the 10 matches between Russia and Portugal, however more than half of those goals came in two matches – Soviet Union’s 5-0 win in April 1983, and Portugal’s 7-1 win in October 2004.
– Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals in that 7-1 win against Russia, his fifth and sixth goals for Portugal and his first brace for his country.
– Russia are unbeaten in four games (W2 D2), their best run since going five games without defeat from September to November 2015 (W5).
– However, Portugal come into this game having lost just two of their last 18 games in all competitions (W11 D5).
– Fedor Smolov has now scored three goals in his last four games for Russia, this after enduring a run of seven games without finding the net.
– Against Mexico, Cristiano Ronaldo failed to find the net for Portugal for the first time since the EURO 2016 final; he had scored in six consecutive games for Portugal between those two games, netting 12 times in that run.
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