Ronaldo spoils Russia’s party planning. Mexicans and Kiwis overheat in Sochi

By Samindra Kunti in Moscow

June 22 – The Confederations Cup heated up last night as tensions flared in Sochi as Mexico edged New Zealand 2-1. Meanwhile in Moscow, hosts Russia face a first-round exit after Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal for Portugal leaves the hosts needing a win against the fiery Mexicans to make it into the next round.

For much of the match the European champions outclassed Russia, with a fine command of ball possession and attacking intent. After nine minutes Portuguese superstar Ronaldo, who may still exit Real Madrid, opened the scoring with a simple header at the far post. The goal was neatly crafted with Bernardo Silva and Rafael Guerreiro involved in the build-up play, but it was equally a measure of Russian deficiencies with plenty of immobile defending.

“It wasn’t us, at the start, to let Ronaldo see so much of the ball,” said Russia coach Cherchesov. “We knew who needed to go where but sometimes games don’t go according to plan. In the second half we changed things around and had several good chances but which, unfortunately, did not bring us any goals.”

Cherchesov switched his formation from a 5-3-2 to a 5-4-1 with Feodor Smolov as lone striker and Yuri Zhirkov and Alexsandr Samedov operating on the wings, but Russia’s number nine hardly touched the ball with the hosts failing to play the ball out from the midfield.

After the break Portugal, who should have been out of sight, maintained pressure early on and the hosts, firmly supported by their fans at a packed Spartak stadium, were grateful to their veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev for keeping them in the game. Russia did raise their game, but to little avail.

Fiery finish

On Saturday they need to beat Mexico in their final group game to avoid an embarrassing first-round exit from the Confederations Cup. The Mexicans were pushed all the way by an energetic and valiant New Zealand, who took the lead on the brink of half-time with a goal from Chris Wood.

His strike woke up the complacent Mexicans. The introduction of Porto playmaker Hector Herrera galvanized El Tri. In a frantic second half Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta scored to turn the result on its head. New Zealand poured forward in search of a late equalizer with tempers boiling in a mass scuffle.

New Zealand’s players objected to Mexico skipper Diego Reyes tugging Michael Boxall’s shirt as he made a surge into the opposition half. Boxall then lunged into Hector Herrera. All 22 players came together with a pushing and shoving match.

Gambia referee Bakary Gassama signaled for VAR Clement Turpin to review the scuffle. Bakary issued three yellow cards to Reyes, Herrera and Boxall, but all of the bookings were awarded individually leading to confusion and a lengthy time delay as New Zealand lined up to take the ensuing free-kick. Once more, VAR seemed badly applied.

Before the game Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio had described the All Whites as ‘gentlemen’ but he bemoaned that ‘the game was really rough, nearly violent and I think that’s unacceptable.’

The 56-year-old had a heated argument with one of New Zealand’s assistant coaches after Mexico’s Carlos Salcedo went down with a shoulder injury in the first half. The Colombian coach also had to be restrained during the second half brawl.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1721545945labto1721545945ofdlr1721545945owedi1721545945sni@i1721545945tnuk.1721545945ardni1721545945mas1721545945