Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Portugal are one win away from qualifying for Euro 2020 after crushing Lithuania 6-0 in the Algarve tonight. Captain Cristiano Ronaldo got the ball rolling, scoring two goals in a one-sided first half. Little changed after the interval with Pizzi, Gonçalo Paciência and the brilliant Bernardo Silva adding further goals before Ronaldo completed his hat-trick to round off the scoring.
Victory in Luxembourg on Sunday will guarantee the runners-up spot in Group B and a berth at next summer's European Championship.
Coach Fernando Santos rang the changes, many forced by injury, starting with the new full-back pairing of Ricardo Pereira and Mário Rui. The former was drafted in for the injured Nélson Semedo, the latter chosen ahead of Raphaël Guerreiro, and both acquitted themselves well, especially Ricardo who demonstrated why so many have been clamouring for his inclusion with a dynamic display throughout the 90 minutes.
In midfield Pizzi and Bruno Fernandes were paired in the middle, with Neves at the base and Bernardo notionally at the tip of a diamond, but in truth the Manchester City wizard was everywhere as he turned in his now habitual mesmerising performance for the Seleção. Up top Gonçalo Paciência partnered Cristiano Ronaldo and was lively throughout.
Portugal started like they were in a hurry, some wonderful wing play by Bernardo bamboozling two Lithuania defenders before crossing just too high to enable Ronaldo to direct his header on target. In the 7th minute another Portugal attack caused panic in the Lithuania box, with Mikolinas fouling Ronaldo for an obvious penalty that the captain duly dispatched.
Paciência heavily involved
Gonçalo Paciência was seeing plenty of the ball as Portugal were encamped in the Lithuanian half, and the Eintracht Frankfurt striker almost doubled the lead as he rose well to head Mário Rui's cross goalwards, drawing a stunning diving save out of Setkus.
Paciência and Ronaldo both came close soon afterwards as Portugal swarmed all over Lithuania and it was no surprise when the hosts scored again. In the 22nd minute Paciência pounced on a loose pass and immediately played in Ronaldo who produced a superb first-time finish to send the ball rocketing into the net from 20 yards out.
With Bernardo pulling the strings the Seleção had further chances in the first half, Paciência crashing a volley over the bar after being teed up by Ronaldo and the captain blasting an effort a little too high after being played in by Mário Rui.
Seleção on song
If the visitors hoped Portugal would take their foot off the pedal in the second half they would be disappointed. Playing with a fluidity and speed of thought and execution that has often been missing during this qualification campaign, Portugal created chance after chance - too many to list here.
The goals came naturally enough: Pizzi fired in off the bar and post after a neat give-and-go with Bruno Fernandes, Gonçalo got in on the act when Lithuania goalkeeper Setkus spilled Bernardo's shot at his feet and Bernardo Silva himself got a richly deserved goal after latching onto Ricardo's cross.
Ronaldo hunts down Daei
When Ronaldo hit is hat-trick goal - Bernardo again involved with the assist - a historic scoreline was on the cards given that it was 6-0 with around half an hour of the match still remaining. Ronaldo has now scored 98 goals for Portugal, and is just 11 short of catching the top all-time international goalscorer, Iran's Ali Daei. There is little doubt that CR7 will claim the outright record.
Portugal slowed the pace a little, substitutions further broke the rhythm yet the chances kept on coming, Paciência and Bruma with the best of them but Setkus kept out their efforts. Despite conceding six goals and making a terrible mistake for Paciência's goal, the Lithuania goalkeeper stood out as the best performer for the Baltic team.
Indeed, as satisfying a night as it was for Portugal, so weak were Lithuania that it is difficult to draw too many conclusions, but the vibrancy with which Ricardo Pereira and Gonçalo Paciência in particular took their opportunity suggests Fernando Santos could well be using them in his starting XI in coming games, starting with Sunday's showdown against Luxembourg.
by Tom Kundert
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Ricardo Pereira, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, Mário Rui, Rúben Neves, Pizzi, Bruno Fernandes (João Moutinho, 72′), Bernardo Silva (Bruma, 67′), Gonçalo Paciência, Cristiano Ronaldo (Diogo Jota, 83′)
Lithuania: Setkus, Mikoliunas, Palionis, Girdvainis, Andriuskevicius, Slivka, Simkus, Kurklys (Matulevicius, 57′), Novikovas, Cernych (Kazlauskas, 81′), Golubicklas
[1-0] Ronaldo, 7′
[2-0] Ronaldo, 22′
[3-0] Pizzi, 52′
[4-0] Gonçalo Paciência, 56′
[5-0] Bernardo Silva, 63′
[6-0] Ronaldo, 65′