Luxembourg 1-3 Portugal
The Seleção were made to work hard tonight against an organized and resilient Luxembourg in Group A of qualification for World Cup 2022 at the Stade Josy Barthel.
Once again, it was a case of superhuman efforts from the opposition keeper combined with bad finishing which prevented a more egregious scoreline, and Portugal found their way through adversity after going 1-0 down in the first half to snatch all three points and move top of Group A on goal differential.
Cristiano Ronaldo added to his record tally while João Palhinha scored his first ever goal for Portugal.
Fernando Santos, under-fire for squad selection and failure to make timely substitutions in Portugal's previous encounters, made several changes with João Félix and Renato Sanches in the starting XI. Jota again partnered Ronaldo after his performance against Serbia.
Portugal initially struggled to break down the determined hosts with errant passing and general lack of cohesion perhaps a symptom of an unstable starting XI with few training days in between matches. Ronaldo finally registered Portugal's first shot on target in the 24th minute when João Félix was brought down on the left side of the penalty area. The resulting free kick was well-struck but straight at keeper Anthony Moris who punched the ball to safety.
Cancelo burst free down the right minutes later and squared for Renato Sanches, but Moris was again up to the task. But Portugal's lackadaisical start was punished by a brilliant header from Gerson Rodrigues, his second big goal in as many matches. It was Luxembourg's first shot of the evening.
Bernardo Silva forced another save from Moris in the 35th minute after a surprisingly good throughball from José Fonte. Portugal were then forced into a first half change when Félix pulled up with an ankle injury, Wolverhampton's Pedro Neto taking his place.
Renato Sanches was next to go close with a shot from range tipped over the bar, and Ronaldo miscued a header after a wonderful cross from Nuno Mendes, but Portugal would have been left with a small mountain to climb were it not for Diogo Jota. The Liverpool forward was well-placed to head home substitute Pedro Neto's excellent cross from the left in first half stoppage time, another hugely important effort from Jota and the sixth of his Portugal career.
The Seleção came back with renewed vigor to start the second half and quickly restored order through Cristiano Ronaldo. As possession broke down, Ronaldo picked up the ball and charged through the middle, passed wide to Cancelo, and deftly finished the fullback's cross with the inside of his right boot, his 103rd Portugal goal.
Nuno Mendes nearly added to the lead minutes later after showing great situational awareness to cut between two defenders, but his rasping diagonal effort was well-saved by Moris. But Luxembourg were still in the match, and a decent run behind from Gerson was punctuated with a sizzling effort that rippled the side netting.
Jota hit the crossbar following Renato's corner just before the hour mark, but Luxembourg settled the tempo and began to pressure the visitors. Anthony Lopes was called into action to tip over a looping free kick from the right wing. Then, in the 77th minute, Ronaldo spurned a glorious chance to increase Portugal's lead after a badly misplaced pass found him all alone with just the keeper to beat. But Moris beat away Ronaldo's attempt with the follow-up being ruled out for offside.
Moris had time enough to stop one more point blank effort from Neto before Portugal finally found their next goal. João Palhinha's angled run met Neto's corner with a glancing header which found the top right corner to give the visitor's a 3-1 advantage with ten minutes plus stoppage time left to play.
Unlike the previous two matches, Portugal's response to difficulty was much improved, and Nuno Mendes' performance was hugely encouraging, but for the third match running the team at times appeared second best to an opponent who pales in comparison to Portugal's Euro 2020 group stage competitors. Arguments will be made on all sides regarding why this round of matches was so difficult for Portugal, but the Seleção have a great deal of work ahead of them to find their best XI, and achieve better harmony in midfield.
Portugal will begin preparation for Euro 2020 in June with a friendly against Spain.
by Nathan Motz
Luxembourg XI: Anthony Moris - Enes Mahmutovic, Maxime Chanot, Laurent Jans, Lars Gerson - Leandro Barreiro, Christopher Martins, Olivier Thill, Vincent Thill, Gerson Rodrigues - Danel Sinani
Portugal XI: Anthony Lopes - João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, Nuno Mendes - Ruben Neves (Sergio Oliveira), Renato Sanches, João Félix (Pedro Neto), Bernardo Silva (João Palhinha) - Diogo Jota (Rafa Silva), Cristiano Ronaldo
[1-0] - Gerson Rodrigues (30')
[1-1] - Diogo Jota (45+1')
[1-2] - Cristiano Ronaldo (51')
[1-3] - João Palhinha (80')