Sochi: Portugal are set to rest Cristiano Ronaldo for Saturday’s clash against New Zealand as the Euro 2016 winners look to confirm their passage into next week’s Confederations Cup semi-finals.
Ronaldo brushed off allegations of tax evasion in Spain with man-of-the-match performances in the 2-2 draw with Mexico and 1-0 win over Russia, when he scored the winner.
Ferdinand Santos is expected to rest some stars, including captain Ronaldo, against the Kiwis.
AC Milan’s new signing Andre Silva should lead Portugal’s attack in the David verses Goliath clash in St Petersburg.
Things remain tight in Group A before Saturday’s final round.
Mexico, top of Group A equal with Portugal on four points by virtue of having scored one more goal, face Russia, who are just a point behind in third.
Only fourth-placed NZ have no chance after losing their two games so far.
The Kiwis will breath a slight sigh of relief if Ronaldo is rested with the Real Madrid star having netted 15 times in his last nine games for club and country.
“Even if you take Ronaldo out of the team, you still have world-class players like (Ricardo) Quaresma and Nani, we have a game plan and we won’t be over-awed,” said Kiwi coach Anthony Hudson.
“The Portuguese probably don’t want to be playing New Zealand right now.”
Like he did before the Mexico game, Hudson called on the Kiwis to be ‘brave’ against the European champions.
This will be the first senior meeting between eighth-ranked Portugal, and New Zealand, who are 95th — sandwiched between Guatemala and Madagascar.
The Kiwis are without a win in all of their 11 Confederations Cup matches and bow out against Portugal after already losing to hosts Russia and Mexico.
The plucky All Whites gave the Mexicans a scare in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat in Sochi with Leeds striker Chris Wood giving the Kiwis a shock first-half lead.
It was their first goal in 555 minutes of Confederations Cup football before Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta scored second-half goals for Mexico as the Kiwis faded.
“We took a great side all the way against Mexico and we can do that against Portugal,” said Wood.
“If we play like we did the other night, I have all the confidence in the world.”
It promises to be a battle royal in Kazan where Mexico need just a point to make the semis, while Russia need to win or their prospects hinge on Portugal losing.
After the draw with Portugal, Mexico’s coach Juan Carlos Osorio made eight changes against New Zealand, which back-fired and his side only reacted when they fell behind.
“Russia are going to be a different proposition, they like to keep the ball and bring it out of defence,” said Mexico’s midfielder Juergen Damm.
“We’ll try to counter their strengths and exploit their weaknesses, but we need to be focused.”
Having spent the New Zealand game on the bench, star striker Javier Hernandez is expected to start while Osorio must make changes after injuries to defenders Carlos Salcedo and Hector Moreno.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov has said he will decide his starting line-up after training with an electric atmosphere expected for the national team’s first game at the Kazan Arena.
Group A fixtures, Saturday
New Zealand v Portugal 7pm
Mexico v Russia 7pm