Portugal 1-0 Armenia
The Seleção were forced to work hard for victory tonight at the Estadio Algarve by a stubborn Armenia side that had their chances to steal a share of the spoils. In the end, Cristiano Ronaldo settled matters and became the European Championships' all-time leading goalscorer in the process (finals and qualifying included).
Fernando Santos again showed his dissimilarity to former coach Paulo Bento by making several changes to the side that faced Denmark. Hélder Postiga returned as the number nine, and José Bosingwa was given the start at right back for the first time in almost four years since his infamous fallout with Bento. Raphael Guerreiro, having made a decent start to the Ligue 1 season with Lorient, started at left back in his very first cap for Portugal.
The Seleção started slowly as Armenia were content to play physical, defensive-minded football from the opening whistle. A 10th minute corner from Danny created some confusion in the penalty area, but the danger was cleared after Carvalho's header was deflected off several players.
Ronaldo scampered into the box in the 13th minute but just lost control at the vital moment. Play quickly transitioned to the other end with Mkhitaryan making a brilliant run through the heart of the Portuguese defence. The Borussia Dortmund playmaker was fouled by Carvalho just outside the box, and fired the ensuing free kick on target bringing a good save from Rui Patrício.
Danny had a decent look at goal in the 19th minute after a deflected clearance fell to him about 20 yards out, but his curled effort was straight at Berezovsky. Moutinho then stole onto a loose pass in midfield and found Ronaldo, who warmed Berezovsky's mitts with a stinging drive.
In a very equal match, Armenia countered, and when Mkhitaryan played in Hovhannisyan, Rui Patrício was again called upon to parry his fierce strike. Minutes later, Danny's goal-bound effort was deflected out for a corner as Portugal continued to press Armenia back.
But Portugal were unable to find a way past the dogged play of Armenia, and instead went into the halftime break with multiple players on yellow cards.
Santos had seen enough from Postiga 10 minutes into the second half, and Éder entered the fray. Armenia gave away the ball repeatedly deep inside their own half, but Portugal were still unable to create clear opportunities until Danny crashed a header against the woodwork in the 59th minute after Bosingwa found him with a cross from the right.
The more Portugal tried to control the game, it seemed, the more Armenia resisted. Danny was the next player to go into the referee's book for a cynical foul on Mkhitaryan as Quaresma made ready to enter the match.
Cristiano Ronaldo to the rescue
The breakthrough did come, however, and it was every bit as scrappy as the game itself. Quaresma, having been on the field for less than a minute, fired in a shot that should have been easily cleared. But when the Armenian defence hesitated, the ball was deflected by Nani into the path of the most dangerous man on the pitch, who bundled the ball over the line for his 52nd international goal.
The game opened up dramatically in the last ten minutes, and Éder really should have scored when Ronaldo found him with a cross inside the 6 yard box, but the lanky striker could only brush the ball as it passed by. Pepe then committed what could have been a very costly mistake when he gave the ball away inside his own half, but Sarkisov wasted the chance for Armenia shooting straight at Rui Patrício.
Éder nearly scored again when he struck the base of the post with a header following a corner kick. Marcos Pirelli fired in another shot at Patrício in stoppage time, but the Sporting keeper was well positioned to make the save.
Despite being given some difficulty by the visitors, Portugal walked away with all three points in a performance that is perhaps more reminiscent of Fernando Santos' Greece squads than vintage Portugal. Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo did the business in a match where the opposition did reasonably well in limiting his opportunities on the ball. Portugal's defence managed to keep their second clean sheet in a row, and newcomer Raphael Guerreiro certainly showed some promise at left back.
The win takes Portugal into 2nd place in Group I behind Denmark, who have played one game more. The Seleção will be in action next Tuesday when they take on Argentina in a high profile friendly at Old Trafford.
Rui Patricio, Bosingwa, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Guerreiro, Tiago, Joao Moutinho, Danny (Quaresma, 70'), Nani (William Carvalho, 88'), Cristiano Ronaldo, Helder Postiga (Eder, 56')
Roman Berezovsky, Varazdat Haroyan, Taron Voskanyan, Robert Arzumanyan, Kamo Hovhannisyan, Levron Havrapetyan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Marcos Pizzelli, 83'), Artur Yedigaryan (Artur Sarkisov, 77'), Gevorg Ghazaryan (Edgar Manucharyan, 62'), Karlen Mkrtchain, Yura Movsisyan
[1-0] Ronaldo, 71'
by Nathan Motz