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.
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
[1-0] - Maksim Medvedev OG 37'