MOSCOW, October 17 (RIA Novosti)
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on Wednesday praised the national football team's perfect start to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Fabio Capello's side needed a late penalty to beat Azerbaijan 1-0 in Moscow on Tuesday, but it was nevertheless a fourth win in four games that left the Russians five points clear at the top of Group F.
"The fact that the team has gone through the first part of qualification without defeat, without even conceding a goal, fills me with optimism," said Mutko, whose decision it was to hire Capello after Dick Advocaat's failed Euro 2012 campaign saw the Dutchman stand down.
"It all bodes well for the team's future."
Russia, who recorded an eyebrow-raising 1-0 win over Portugal in Moscow on Friday, join the Netherlands are the only teams in European World Cup qualification with perfect records.
Last month, Capello's charges beat Northern Ireland 2-0 and Israel 4-0 as part of a series of matches that saw goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev break the record for clean sheets kept by a Russia or Soviet Union goalkeeper.
The Italian coach has commanded respect from Russian fans for getting results after a bold decision to dispense with a generation of players who many considered to be automatic choices.
Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin and former Tottenham Hotspur forward Roman Pavlyuchenko were among a slew of stars axed for their perceived motivational problems, although Capello insisted they simply weren't getting enough playing time.
"I would also evaluate positively the work of the coach, and the effort and skill of the players," Mutko said. "The coach has played the key role. Capello is a serious specialist."
"I like the fact that new players are appearing in the team. That's very important," he added, referring to Dmitry Kombarov and Andrei Yeshchenko, who have nine caps between them.
Russia next play the United States in a November 14 friendly in the southern city of Krasnodar. The next qualifier is in March away to Northern Ireland.
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