MOSCOW: Russia coach Fabio Capello has been hailed as a saviour by local media after the Italian masterminded the team's transformation following a dismal showing at Euro 2012.
“Russian Catenaccio!” read a front-page headline in Saturday's leading sports daily Sport-Express in reference to a tactical system with a strong emphasis on defence traditionally associated with Italian soccer.
Russia beat Group F favourites Portugal 1-0 on Friday to maintain their perfect start in their World Cup qualifying campaign under Capello with three wins from three matches without conceding a goal.
“A dream start! Three victories at the beginning of a qualifying cycle - when did we enjoy such a start? Only once - in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup,” the Sport-Express report said.
“Our team played a tight game with emphasis on defence. They were able to contain (Portugal captain) Cristiano Ronaldo and once again kept their goal clean,” it added.
“It now looks that the attacking game, associated with (Capello's predecessors) Dutchmen Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat has stayed in the past. Now, we have a new era - Fabio Capello and his Italian style of play.”
Another sports daily, Sovietsky Sport, said Russia's win was good revenge for a 7-1 defeat by Portugal in a 2006 World Cup qualifier in Lisbon eight years ago.
“We paid them back for 7-1 - the most humiliating defeat in our football history,” the paper wrote.
The Russians took advantage of Portugal's unfamiliarity with the Moscow stadium's artificial turf, scoring in the sixth minute when Kerzhakov broke clear on goal following a defensive mistake.
After taking the lead, the home team played a tight defensive game, limiting Portugal and their leader Ronaldo to only a few scoring chances.
“We knew we had to contain Ronaldo in order to have a good chance to win,” Capello, who replaced Advocaat following Russia's Euro 2012 flop, told reporters after the match.
“We tried to stay as close to him as possible, often put two defenders on him. I think it worked pretty well for us.”
The Portuguese blamed the defeat in part on playing on a slick Luzhniki surface.
“It was very difficult to play on such a pitch,” said Portugal winger Nani. “Obviously, the Russians were much better accustomed to it than we had.”