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UEFA EURO 2004™ may be just five days old but already hosts Portugal and Group A rivals Russia are concerned with elimination. Their meeting at the Estádio da Luz on Wednesday may not necessarily be a must-win game but it is a match neither side can lose if they are to qualify for the knockout stages.
The seismic shock of their opening defeat by Greece has subsided for Portugal and the days of deconstruction and debate are over. Russia's rancour after their loss to Spain has been very public with Aleksandr Mostovoi, the player with most caps and goals in the squad, expelled after criticising coach Georgi Yartsev's training regime.
Yartsev's counterpart, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has also promised changes. "I will change some players' positions and maybe something more," he said. Cristiano Ronaldo seems certain to start after his goalscoring cameo against Greece with Simão Sabrosa making way. FC Porto playmaker Deco could also step up with Rui Costa relegated to the bench.
The AC Milan player appeared resigned to his fate ahead of the showdown in Lisbon. "If the coach thinks that putting me on the bench is the best for the team then I will give my support to Deco, as he always did when I started," Rui Costa said. "There has always been a good relationship between us and, once again, I affirm that Deco is one of the best offensive midfielders in the world."
The Portuguese attack may have misfired in their opener but Scolari will probably retain a 4-5-1 formation with Pauleta employed as the lone striker. Nuno Gomes will again have to be content with a substitute's berth while his SL Benfica colleague Miguel is unlikely to displace Paulo Ferreira at right-back, despite the Porto player's indifferent performance against Greece.
Scolari may be under pressure but he has no shortage of options, unlike his opposite number Yartsev who has a severely depleted and inexperienced squad. Mostovoi has been sent home and Roman Sharonov is suspended after being dismissed against Spain. Yartsev said: "The changes I can make are clearly limited."
Loskov to start
One enforced alteration will see Aleksei Bugayev, capped only once, replace Sharonov in central defence alongside converted midfield player Aleksei Smertin. There will also be new personnel in midfield with Mostovoi missing and Rolan Gusev relegated to the bench. Dmitri Loskov should replace Mostovoi and the highly-rated FC Krylya Sovetov Samara player Andrei Kariaka will start on the left.
Yartsev blamed his midfielders for failing to support lone striker Dmitri Bulykin in the Spain defeat. He may now elect to push Dmitri Sychev forward just behind Bulykin and hope that the prodigy can benefit from the sort of through-balls from Loskov that he usually thrives on at FC Lokomotiv Moskva.
Both teams go into the game burdened by history. Russia will break the competition record of eight matches without a victory if they fail to win. The pressure for Portugal is even greater: they are the only side to have successfully negotiated all their previous group stages at UEFA European Championships. A loss would also leave them on the cusp of becoming only the second host nation after Belgium in 2000 not to progress to the second round.
'Everything to lose'
Not surprisingly Scolari has termed the duel a "life or death match" while Yartsev put the game perfectly in context. "We expect a tough game because both teams have everything to lose," he said.
Russia (probable): Ovchinnikov; Sennikov, Bugayev, Smertin, Evseev; Kariaka, Loskov, Aldonin, Alenichev; Sychev; Bulykin.
Portugal (possible): Ricardo; Paulo Ferreira, Rui Jorge, Fernando Couto, Jorge Andrade; Maniche, Costinha; Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco; Pauleta.
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