Lisbon - An early Helder Postiga tap-in gave Portugal a precious 1-0 home win over Russia at the Luz stadium on Friday that injected life into their World Cup qualification hopes and sent them top of Group F.
Postiga scored after only nine minutes on an unseasonably cold evening in Lisbon, pouncing on an inviting Miguel Veloso free kick from the left for his 26th goal for Portugal.
After some under-par performances, Portugal moved top of the group, three points ahead of third-placed Israel and two in front of Russia who are still favourites to win the group with two games in hand.
Coach Paulo Bento, who steered Portugal to a semi-final spot at Euro 2012, said there was still much work ahead.
“It seems a fair result that allows us to continue fighting for our goal,” he said with three qualifiers left.
“It was important to beat Russia... I don't have the habit of classifying games as decisive, but as important, worth three points”.
In Euro 2012 qualification, Portugal progressed by beating Bosnia in a playoff.
Needing a win, the Portuguese pressed high up the pitch in front of a 55,000-strong crowd.
Captain Cristiano Ronaldo had several shots on goal but was unusually wasteful.
He hacked a great opportunity into the stands just before the half hour, missing from a perfect low cross into the box from Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha, who was selected ahead of Nani.
Russia failed to create many chances in the first 30 minutes but gained confidence as the halftime whistle drew near.
They almost scored from a long cross that keeper Rui Patricio palmed away. The ball ended up at the feet of Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who failed to direct it towards the open goal.
Minutes later, the visitors had a strong penalty appeal for what looked like a Fabio Coentrao handball in the box but the referee waved the protests away.
The Russians did little to bother the Portuguese in the second half although forward Vladimir Bystrov did strike a dangerous shot with an acrobatic bicycle kick.
Bento praised Zenit St Petersburg's Portuguese centre-back Luis Neto, who deputised for suspended Pepe and put in an imposing performance to nullify the Russian danger in only his second cap.
“It's not by chance that Russia was at the top of the group, But barring one or two occasions we managed to resolve things in the best way. Still, we have not won anything yet,” the 25-year-old Neto told Portuguese radio.
Ronaldo almost gave his side the safety of a second goal five minutes from the end, but keeper Igor Akinfeev stretched to tip away his diagonal shot.
The nine group winners qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil and the eight best runners-up will play off over two legs for the remaining four places. – Reuters