Portugal are overwhelming favourites to beat Luxembourg at the Stade Josy Barthel and secure their ticket to Euro 2020. Having annihilated Lithuania 6-0 at the Estádio do Algarve and with Cristiano Ronaldo on the verge of 100 senior international goals, the stage is set for another intriguing encounter.
Has Fernando Santos found the formula?
Portugal were at their devastating best against Lithuania with Fernando Santos choosing an attacking line-up. Has Santos found a formula that will regularly destroy lower level opposition?
Rúben Neves showed he can protect the defence with his intelligence, positioning and passing range vital assets. That allows Bruno Fernandes and Pizzi, both incredibly prolific at club level, to operate either side and fill any space vacated by Bernardo Silva.
Speaking of Silva, the freedom afforded to the Manchester City star allowed him to do what he does best, influence the game with clever combination play and movement that renders opposition defenders mere spectators.
Gonçalo Paciência deserved his chance up front and got off the mark, assisting Ronaldo and displaying his crafty link-up play and heading proficiency. The full-back pairing of Ricardo Pereira and Mário Rui were top class, Rui making frequent interceptions and Ricardo's performance rewarded with an assist for Bernardo’s goal.
Portugal’s first match against Lithuania ended in a 5-1 win. Ronaldo put away an early penalty and scored four goals, including three in the second half that the Seleção won 4-0. The return leg in the Algarve saw Ronaldo put away an early penalty and score three goals in a 6-0 win, the rampant hosts scoring another four unanswered goals in the second half.
It was fantastic to see such a great team performance and individuals displaying their capabilities, but Lithuania are going through a rough period having lost their last six matches and are currently no match for the European champions. Manager Valdas Urbonas doesn’t have the players to compete at this level with their defence continually chasing shadows.
Ronaldo century bound
Ronaldo’s 55th hat-trick of his career and 9th for the Seleção was as ruthless as ever. A penalty, an outrageous first time finish from outside the box and a close range effort made it 98 goals for Portugal, 11 short of Iran's Ali Daei, the current top all-time international goalscorer.
There was speculation surrounding his health and early substitution for Juventus against AC Milan. Some questioned if he would start, but there was simply no way CR7 was going to pass up another opportunity to punish a pitiful defence and add to his incredible goal tally.
Ronaldo has scored 13 goals in his last seven internationals including three hat-tricks. Can Luxembourg's defence stop him? Unlikely.
Luxembourg vs Portugal head to head
Portugal have won their last nine matches against Luxembourg all competitions. Luxembourg have failed to score in eight of those which is bad news for the hosts.
Portugal team news
The injury to Nélson Semedo and lack of playing time for João Cancelo gave Ricardo Pereira his chance and he deserves to keep his spot. The same goes for Mário Rui who came in for Raphaël Guerreiro and did well at left-back.
João Moutinho came off the bench and Danilo Pereira was an unused substitute against Lithuania. Will Santos bring one of them into the starting side against a tougher opposition away from home?
Gonçalo Paciência fully deserved his start and I think the Eintracht Frankfurt striker did enough to hold his spot.
Luxembourg form & team news
Luxembourg have had a disastrous qualifying campaign with one win in seven matches. Luc Holtz’s side have lost their last six matches in all competitions including a 3-0 defeat against Portugal in Lisbon in the reverse fixture one month ago and a 3-2 loss in Serbia on Thursday.
Gerson Rodrigues and Dave Turpel scored the goals but they have been hard to come by for Luxembourg, who had failed to score in six of their previous seven away matches in European Championship.
Christopher Martins Pereira is injured which is a blow for the hosts. Brothers Vincent and Olivier Thill are the future for Luxembourg but are only 19 and 22-years-old and need more time to develop.
Portuguese supporters will be confident but wary considering some of the qualification struggles in recent years. Luxembourg shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if Portugal play to their potential there is only one winner here.
Predicted Portugal starting XI (4-3-3):
Do Luxembourg qualify as lower level opposition? I would like to see Santos stick with the same starting XI that steamrolled Lithuania, but wouldn't be surprised if João Moutinho or Danilo Pereira came in at the expense of Pizzi or Bruno Fernandes.
Rui Patrício - Ricardo Pereira, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, Mário Rui - Pizzi, Rúben Neves, Bruno Fernandes - Bernardo Silva, Gonçalo Paciência, Cristiano Ronaldo.