With Pepe suspended for the game at Estadio da Luz, Paulo Bento’s main concern is picking a replacement to partner Bruno Alves in the heart of the Portuguese defense, with Valencia’s Ricardo Costa expected to get the nod.
After an injury-plagued campaign which saw him miss Portugal’s last two Group F matches against Israel and Azerbaijan, winger Nani has re-joined the squad for the upcoming qualifier.
The Manchester United man may well line up on the opposite flank to Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao, who are both set to start after missing Real Madrid’s season finale victory against Osasuna on Saturday with minor injuries.
Captain Igor Denisov is expected to make his return to the Russian XI after sitting out the team's last game against Brazil with illness, with Viktor Faizulin vying with Roman Shirokov for the other central midfield berth in Fabio Capello’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov is the favorite to lead the line for the Group F leader ahead of Anzhi Makhachkala forward Fyodor Smolov, as experienced trio Roman Pavlyuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrei Arshavin were again overlooked.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- With four victories from its first four games, Russia is one of only two sides left in UEFA’s qualifying section with 100 percent records, with the Netherlands also boasting the same achievement.
- Fabio Capello’s men are also the only European team yet to concede a goal in qualifying, with Igor Akinfeev keeping a clean sheet in each of the four victories.
- Friday’s match could see three players make their international debuts, with Russia’s Alexei Kozlov and Portugal’s Andre Martins both getting their first senior call ups, while uncapped Vladimir Granat is also in the Russian squad for the first time since Euro 2012.
- Portugal is level with second-placed Israel on 11 points and trails Russia by only a solitary point, but both teams have played six games to Russia’s four.
- The runner up in Group F may not even qualify for the playoff as, in the current ranking of second-placed teams across the European section, Israel is last and set to miss out.
- Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who scored the only goal of the game in the last meeting between these two sides at the Luzhniki Stadium last October, is only four goals away from equaling Vladimir Beschastnykh’s all-time Russia record of 26 goals.
- Four goals is also all it takes for Crsitiano Ronaldo (pictured, right) to overtake Eusebio as the second-highest Portugal goalscorer ever, while six more strikes will see him surpass Pauleta’s all-time landmark of 47 goals.
- Portugal is the sixth-best team in the world according to the latest FIFA ranking, while Russia narrowly missed out on the top 10 by placing 11th.