Portugal, Russia win World Cup qualifiers
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) - Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick within 15 minutes to boost Portugal's hopes of qualifying directly for the World Cup with a 4-2 win at Northern Ireland, and Russia routed Luxembourg 4-1 in Group F on Friday.
After Alexander Kokorin struck twice as Fabio Capello's Russia beat Luxembourg in Kazan to move provisionally to the top of the group, Portugal restored its two-point lead as Ronaldo made the difference in an ill-tempered game that saw three red cards at Windsor Park.
But the Russians, who recovered from their surprise 1-0 defeat in Northern Ireland last month, have one game in hand and remain in good position to qualify directly for the finals in Brazil.
Portugal went into the match as favorites and Bruno Alves put the visitors ahead after 21 minutes. But West Bromwich Albion defender Gareth McAuley equalized with a fine header before Helder Postiga was sent off for an apparent headbutt in the 43rd minute.
Portugal stumbled when Jamie Ward gave the home team a 2-1 lead in the 52nd but left-back Chris Brunt received a red card at the hour-mark.
The referee's decision boosted the Portuguese's spirits and Ronaldo leveled the score in the 68th, heading home a corner from Joao Moutinho past Roy Carroll. Left unmarked at the far post, Ronaldo doubled his tally with another header from close range and scored his 43rd international goal in the 83rd with a low free kick minutes after Kyle Lafferty was sent off for a late challenge.
In Kazan, a heavy downpour forced officials to delay the kickoff by an hour but the Russians did not waste time and scored inside 20 seconds when Kokorin lobbed Luxembourg goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert after collecting a pass from Alexander Kerzhakov.
Kokorin doubled his team's lead in the 35th minute with a header into the bottom-left corner. Kerzhakov and Alexander Samedov scored Russia's other goals and Aurelien Joachim pulled one back for Luxembourg.
Israel plays Azerbaijan on Saturday in the group's other match. Russia will next face Israel at home before finishing its qualifying campaign at Luxembourg and Azerbaijan while Portugal will host Israel and then Luxembourg in October.
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