Portugal got their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory against Azerbaijan in Italy. It was a game to forget at an empty Allianz Stadium in Turin, the Seleção dominating from start to finish but failing to create many clear cut chances and going ahead through a comical own goal.

The match was notable for Nuno Mendes and João Palhinha making their senior international debuts. Domingos Duarte and Pedro Neto both started in their second international appearances and André Silva made his first competitive start for Portugal since November 2019.

One Way Traffic

The pattern of the match was established early on, Azerbaijan sitting in a deep block with Portugal prying for openings and sending crosses into the box. Domingos Duarte fired wide after collecting Ronaldo’s clever pass over the defence.

Ronaldo headed Nuno Mendes’ cross over the bar before Duarte saw his header deflected narrowly wide. Cancelo blazed over from a promising position as Neto switched from the right wing to the left flank.

Fernando Santos’ side would finally take the lead in the 37th minute. Rúben Neves saw a shot saved, he then delivered a dangerous cross into the danger area where Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev punched it into Maksim Medvedev with the ball ricocheting into an empty net.

It was one of the most undeserved own goals you will ever see as Portugal continued to pile on the pressure, Ronaldo’s effort deflected wide before the break.

Second Half Changes

Bruno Fernandes replaced João Moutinho at half time as Azerbaijan manager Giovanni De Biasi made two changes, Ismayil Ibrahimli and Anatolii Nuriev replacing Vuqar Mustafayev and Abbas Huseynov.

‘Milli’ enjoyed a brief spell of pressure to start the second half but Anthony Lopes remained untested. Ronaldo saw successive free kicks blocked as he grew increasingly frustrated at failing to find open space, particularly in the 18-yard-box where Azerbaijan concentrated their defence.

Rafa Silva replaced Pedro Neto before Bernardo Silva burst through the middle and saw a weak effort saved. Azerbaijan’s best chance came in the 70th minute, Anatolii Nuriev firing over the bar after Lopes’ failed clearance.

The substitutions kept coming as André Silva made way for João Félix. Ronaldo teed up Bruno Fernandes who was becoming increasingly involved, the Manchester United playmaker forcing a fine save from Mahammadaliyev.

Ronaldo managed to test Mahammadaliyev with a free kick that was tipped over the bar as Portugal cruised to the finish line. Sérgio Oliveira and João Palhinha came on for Rúben Neves and Bernardo Silva in the 88th minute, Félix with a promising chance saved in added time.

Next...

This was a match to forget for Portugal, a largely dull affair in a stadium lacking any emotion. The three points will be welcomed, but there is little to learn from another one sided game against an inferior opponent parking the bus.

Individual performances should be measured against the level of the opponent, but Nuno Mendes did well in his debut and won a number of 50/50 challenges in the first half.

Domingos Duarte looked confident and assured and is set to be Ruben Dias' permanent partner in central defence. He should be given as much game time as possible with the careers of Pepe and José Fonte nearing their conclusion.

Pedro Neto tried hard to provide service and André Silva was increasingly surrounded by a packed defence. Portugal will put this performance behind them and focus on Serbia.

Portugal XI: Anthony Lopes - João Cancelo, Domingos Duarte, Rúben Dias, Nuno Mendes - Bernardo Silva (Sérgio Oliveira 88'), Rúben Neves (João Palhinha 88'), João Moutinho (Bruno Fernandes 46’) - Pedro Neto (Rafa Silva 63’), André Silva (João Félix 75’), Cristiano Ronaldo

Goals:

[1-0] - Maksim Medvedev OG 37'

Comments (25)

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Even though Portugal got the win, it was a very disappointing performance. You could tell some of the players towards the end were trying to force it to Ronaldo in hopes of something.

I didn’t mind the Nuno Mendes debut. Like I mentioned in his...

Even though Portugal got the win, it was a very disappointing performance. You could tell some of the players towards the end were trying to force it to Ronaldo in hopes of something.

I didn’t mind the Nuno Mendes debut. Like I mentioned in his article posted here a few days ago though, I absolutely LOATHE this new hybrid Wingback position. The defensive backs are always pressed way too high up the field. Not only does it make Portugal seem too congested in the middle, they also are prone to counter attacks.

Pedro Neto was average - but I wonder if it’s because he plays in a different system. He usually plays on a counterattacking setup, and Santos plays a possession game.

Lastly, what is up with Bernardo Silva? I thought he was piss-poor again for Portugal. He just seems very lost when it comes to the National Team at times.

Onto Serbia! Hopefully some changes in midfield will help

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Bernardo was the only creativity on the pitch he even had to track back to help Cancelo.

If anyone needed to be pulled it was Ronaldo. He was a ghost.

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I think it's because it's a totally different style for him.

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The first half was comfortable, but we lacked some sharpness in the final third. The second was a disjointed mess. Neto showed some process, though I don't think he's our best bet against defensive opposition. Same can be said about Rafa, another...

The first half was comfortable, but we lacked some sharpness in the final third. The second was a disjointed mess. Neto showed some process, though I don't think he's our best bet against defensive opposition. Same can be said about Rafa, another player who is at his best when games open up.

Nuno Mendes looked calm and assured throughout and he appeared to win virtually all of his 50-50s. Ronaldo was sloppy and looked unfit, but he did set up two of our best chances - both of which Fernandes and Felix should have buried.

I'm still not sure whether our not our French contingent will be able to take part in the Serbia match. If so, then I expect Fonte and Danilo to step into the starting 11. Moutinho will likely keep his spot in the team due to his experience, but I personally would opt for Sergio Oliveira in that role.

I'd also like to see either Jota or Felix get the start over Andre Silva in this one. We will likely have far more space against the Serbs, especially in transition, so it doesn't make much sense to start with the less mobile Silva.

Let's hope we can put up a more cohesive display on Saturday - if we play the way we did today, we'll be lucky to come away with a point.

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Good game, the Azeri keeper outperformed himself, the only reason the score stayed 1:0 and we feel disappointed. The first game of the qualification phase is always tough, especially for Portugal. This time we won controlling the game and...

Good game, the Azeri keeper outperformed himself, the only reason the score stayed 1:0 and we feel disappointed. The first game of the qualification phase is always tough, especially for Portugal. This time we won controlling the game and allowing new players to settle in the squad, so overall not a bad performance.

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Poor game from the team. I understand the want to get Ronaldo closer to 109, but was disappointed by the team’s and Cristiano’s performance. Pretty solid debut from Mendes, he’s still extremely young but showed a lot of promise, and has great...

Poor game from the team. I understand the want to get Ronaldo closer to 109, but was disappointed by the team’s and Cristiano’s performance. Pretty solid debut from Mendes, he’s still extremely young but showed a lot of promise, and has great delivery into the box.

I think Bernardo was quite good actually, he shuttled the ball from our end to the front proficiently and although very much pulls the strings, had 2 good attempts on goal. Bruno looked a little lethargic in his entrance, and André Silva didn’t look potent enough up there. Neves had a pretty solid game, and I think we have to give Cancelo some freedom down the wing because he is a real threat while attacking. Félix brought a little energy to the side, and I’d like to see him start.

Hopefully there’s a different mentality against Serbia!

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Not surprised by the very disappointing performance. With Fernando Santos as manager that is expected. Lord help us!

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Yeah, we play ugly but who won the main championship for us over other coaches who promised glory? Santos is the right man for the job

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Typical BS game where the game plan is for everyone else to disrupt their game and setup CR7 to score a goal so he can break another record. I bet you any amount of money of CR7 didn't play, the score would have been 5-0. it's easy to defend when...

Typical BS game where the game plan is for everyone else to disrupt their game and setup CR7 to score a goal so he can break another record. I bet you any amount of money of CR7 didn't play, the score would have been 5-0. it's easy to defend when you know only one person will be attempting to score. All this talent and they can only beat a BS team 1-0. If it wasn't for the own goal it would have been 0-0. Time for Ronaldo to retire and that is coming from a Ronaldo fan...

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agreed,i felt that too more than usual ,ridiculous...

andre silva should never come again,paulinho when he is fit should be our number 9...

bruno never does anything for the nt ...

ruben was good to night but is he this 60 million euro player...

agreed,i felt that too more than usual ,ridiculous...

andre silva should never come again,paulinho when he is fit should be our number 9...

bruno never does anything for the nt ...

ruben was good to night but is he this 60 million euro player we once thought?

we lacked hinger n tactics where terrible...

bring in jorge jesus or a young manager is my plea

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What an awful game. Why did Santos have us lineup so defensively against this team. No reason at all for Moutinho to be out there. I’ve said this for a long time now and it keeps being true, Moutinho’s roll is to come on and defend a lead....

What an awful game. Why did Santos have us lineup so defensively against this team. No reason at all for Moutinho to be out there. I’ve said this for a long time now and it keeps being true, Moutinho’s roll is to come on and defend a lead. Nothing more.

Bruno doesn’t start
Palhinha and Oliveira only get two minutes
Jota doesn’t get a single minute
Rafa plays instead and is unsurprisingly useless (don’t be surprised if Santos chooses him over Neto for the euro. It’s the exact kind of bonehead move he’d make).

Just terrible

Since 2016 the players may have gotten better but the manager hasn’t.

Oh and please please please get a Ronaldo off free kicks. What a waste everytime we get one.

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A few thoughts:

- Fernando Santos is the 2nd longest reigning Portugal manager, and we owe him our trophies, but 7 years in and I still fail to see a Fernando Santos "identity", or way of playing. I've spent 3 years criticizing Conceicao...

A few thoughts:

- Fernando Santos is the 2nd longest reigning Portugal manager, and we owe him our trophies, but 7 years in and I still fail to see a Fernando Santos "identity", or way of playing. I've spent 3 years criticizing Conceicao despite his accomplishments, but you cannot fault him for a lack of identity. Watching Porto losing to Juventus you saw more grit, fire and determination than you saw in Portugal "winning" against Azerbaijan.

- Joao Cancelo is a Marcelo level defender, and by that I mean he is one of the worst defenders I have ever seen. If you want to compliment him as a player, please refer to him as a winger because the word "defend" does not exist in his vocabulary. I would criticize Bernardo Silva in this game, except for the fact that I counted 6 defensive interceptions by him on our right flank where Cancelo SHOULD have been. Cancelo is abysmal and I know many here love him, but he is a player I would not mind never seeing on the Seleccao again. At one point, I saw Bernardo and Rafa shutting down an Azerbaijani attack to then see Cancelo plod back as if to say "what is it you guys are doing? We're supposed to do stuff back here???" Useless.


- Mahammadaliyev, the Azerbaijani keeper was brilliant, what a fantastic display. Credit for a hell of a performance.

- Domingos Duarte and Nuno Mendes were the two lone bright-spots for me. Duarte actually stole the spotlight from Ruben Dias, and showed that once Pepe retires, we may have a great partner for Dias in the heart of defence. Mendes proved that he has defensive chops and can be positionally sound and disciplined in a traditional back 4.

Hoping we can put in a better performance against Serbia. Let's see what happens.

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To all who criticize Santos:

The players didn't even switch to second gear. They always show a good display when it counts. Compare this one to the games with France. That was our team. They didn't allow Kylian Mbappe a shot on target in two...

To all who criticize Santos:

The players didn't even switch to second gear. They always show a good display when it counts. Compare this one to the games with France. That was our team. They didn't allow Kylian Mbappe a shot on target in two games.

What will you say after they score 4 or 5 against Serbia in the next game?

Always Forca PORTUGAL!

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I came for the angry comments, I was not disappointed. :)

Some of these gems should be written down and used in the next Dave Chappelle special.

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“The game against Germany served as a lesson.”

João Palhinha
(Portugal midfielder highlights the factor behind the huge improvement by Portugal in their final Euro 2020 Group F match against France) 

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