Azerbaijan 0-3 Portugal
Portugal made light work of beating Azerbaijan in their latest World Cup qualifier in a wet Baku this afternoon. Two quickfire first-half goals by Bernardo Silva and André Silva put Portugal in charge.
The second half was even more one-sided, with Portugal creating a host of chances to increase their lead and Diogo Jota finally ending his recent barren run with another headed goal.
In relation to the Ireland game last week André Silva was selected in place of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, with João Moutinho coming in for Rafa Silva as Fernando Santos opted for a 4-4-2.
Portugal took the initiative from the off, João Cancelo causing panic early doors with a break down the right flank and low cross that was cleared with difficulty by the Azeri defence. The visitors continued to press for an early breakthrough but just when it seemed the hosts had weathered the storm the Seleção struck to take the lead in the 26th minute.
Bruno back on song
A looping cross by André Silva looked to be heading out of play, but the ball was retrieved by Raphael Guerreiro and passed to Bruno Fernandes. Much more positively involved throughout than in recent games for his country, the Manchester United man whipped in an inviting cross that Bernardo Silva took full advantage off with a lovely mid-air finish with his heel.
Azerbaijan almost hit straight back, Salahli spurning a chance from just six yards out after some sloppy defending by Portugal. It proved a costly miss for the home team, as Portugal soon doubled their lead.
An excellent passage of keep-ball saw Santos’s men string together umpteen passes, moving the ball quickly from one flank to the other. Fernandes swung in another sumptuous cross, Jota cut it back across goal and André Silva was left with a simple tap-in. 2-0.
The Leipzig striker then had another glaring chance, again set up by Fernandes, but scuffed his shot off target from in front of goal.
At half time the yellow-carded Palhinha was substituted by Rúben Neves, and Portugal’s domination of possession accentuated. Diogo Jota missed badly when played in on goal, his first attempt well saved by Magomedallyev, then blazing his follow-up effort over the bar.
Bruno Fernandes also tested the Azeri goalkeeper, forcing him into two sharp saves with powerful shots, one right-footed from outside the box, another left-footed that was heading into the top corner before being turned over for a corner.
A third goal was only a matter of time, and it finally came when the excellent João Cancelo again skipped past his marker with remarkable ease and chipped over a peach of a cross that Jota rose well to plant into the bottom corner of the net with a downward header. His celebration was one of relief rather than joy after missing so many chances in recent matches for Portugal.
“We could have scored more goals. We lacked better decisions with our finishing,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “We were a very consistent team at all times and played an excellent game, but there are a lot of things we must improve on.”
A solid performance by Portugal and top spot in Group A – the only position that guarantees automatic qualification to the World Cup – increasingly looks like it will come down to the final match when the Seleção host Serbia in Lisbon on 14 November.
By Tom Kundert
Azerbaijan: Magomedaliyev, Badalov, Haghverdi, Salahli (Sadykhov, 76’), Huseynov, Mahmudov, Emreli (Toral Bayramov, 62’), Qarayev (Nuriev, 46’), Ozobic (Mustafayev, 62’), Khalilzade (Ghorbani, 46’), Aleskerov
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Cancelo, Pepe, Rúben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro (Nuno Mendes, 71’), João Palhinha (Rúben Neves, 46’), João Moutinho (João Mário, 78’), Bernardo Silva (Otávio, 78’), Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota (Gonçalo Guedes, 78’)
[0-1] Bernardo Silva, 26’
[0-2] André Silva, 31’
[0-3] Diogo Jota, 75’