Of all the World Cup qualifiers this week, the Group F clash between Russia and Portugal in Moscow on Friday is perhaps the most crucial.
With both teams having won their first two games and little meaningful competition in their group, this could potentially be a two-leg shootout to decide who qualifies automatically for Brazil in 2014.
Russia are unbeaten since their calamitous exit from Euro 2012 at the hands of Greece and were convincing in their wins over Northern Ireland and Israel – scoring six without reply.
In front of their own supporters, and with Cristiano Ronaldo believed to be less than 100 per cent fit after suffering a shoulder injury at the weekend, this surely falls under the familiar ‘must-win’ category.
Fabio Capello’s Russia are 31/20 (2.55) with Sportingbet to pick up three points in this one.
While Russia’s Euro 2012 campaign began with a bang before fizzling fast, Portugal’s was a slow burner - losing to Germany before coming into their own and only being beaten on penalties in the semi-final by eventual winners Spain.
The Iberian outfit always seem to stutter their way through qualifying and this one started no different as they went a goal down to Luxembourg in the opening game.
But they usually find a way through and are 7/4 (2.75) to upset the Russians here. The draw is available at 11/5 (3.20) with Sportingbet.
In the goalscorer markets, it is difficult to disregard Ronaldo. His record for the national team is an improving one with five goals in the last six games and he is 18/5 (4.60) to net first here.
But given Russia’s home advantage, the better bet could be to back Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The hard-running forward bagged two goals in Israel and is 5/1 (6.00) with Sportingbet to open the scoring on Friday.
That is the value bet here and expect home advantage to tell.
Portugal have finished second in each of their last three qualifying groups and presumably treat it as par for the course.
Capello, on the other hand, proved himself remarkably efficient in ensuring England progressed with a minimum of fuss, so expect the experienced Italian to have his side well prepared here.
Back Russia to make it nine points from three games with another win to send Ronaldo home disappointed.
|Russia to win at 31/20 (2.55) with Sportingbet
||Kerzhakov to score first at 5/1 (6.00) with Sportingbet
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Adam Bate is a professional freelance journalist who specialises in football and betting. He is editor of GhostGoal which can be found here - you can also follow Adam on
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