Roberto Martínez got off to a winning start as Portugal manager, his new side comfortably beating Liechtenstein 4-0 at Estádio José Alvalade.
João Cancelo’s deflected strike put the Seleção ahead in the 8th minute, but they couldn’t add to their advantage in the first half despite enjoying 81% possession.
Bernardo Silva made it 2-0 in the 47th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo converting a penalty four minutes later after Cancelo had been brought down in the area.
Ronaldo scored his 120th international goal in the 63th minute, his free kick too hot for Benjamin Büchel to handle.
The match was notable for Gonçalo Inácio who made his senior debut, starting on the left side of a back three which is likely to be Martínez’s preferred formation moving forward.
One way traffic
The predictable pattern of the match was confirmed in the opening minutes, Liechtenstein unable to string two passes together and constantly camped in their own half.
João Cancelo was seeing plenty of the ball and opened the scoring in the 8th minute. Büchel cleared a corner to the edge of the area, Cancelo’s volley taking a big deflection that wrong-footed the keeper who couldn’t stop the ball rolling over the line.
João Félix was frequently being fouled but referee Espen Eskås was showing no signs of dishing out any yellow cards.
The Seleção started to create some chances against Liechtenstein’s deep lying and packed defence, Cristiano Ronaldo heading Bruno Fernandes’ cross high and wide.
Ronaldo had a great chance to score in the 23rd minute when Cancelo’s cross evaded Lars Traber, he looked certain to score before blasting way over the bar.
Portugal were completely dominating the game but unable to seriously test Büchel. He spilled Ronaldo’s low drive, saw Bruno Fernandes’ shot sail wide and breathed easy when Ronaldo headed a corner narrowly wide.
Liechtenstein eventually advanced the ball into Portugal’s half in the 31st minute after a loose pass from Gonçalo Inácio, but it was a rare foray forward, the visitors immediately retreating behind the ball.
Portugal finally doubled their advantage two minutes into the second half. Cancelo’s cross was deflected straight into the path of Bernardo Silva, his shot deflected past a stranded Büchel.
Four minutes later the Seleção were awarded a penalty. Cancelo played a neat 1-2 with Fernandes before being brought down by Jens Hofer, Ronaldo stepping up and making no mistake to make it 119 international goals.
Bernardo Silva curled an effort wide as Liechtenstein’s left sided defence was constantly being bamboozled.
Ronaldo at the double
Ronaldo scored from an offside position but didn’t have to wait long to double his tally. Palhinha was fouled on the edge of the area, the 38-year-old stepping up and slamming the free kick into the top corner via Büchel’s fingertips.
Roberto Martínez made his first substitutions in the 65th minute when Danilo and João Félix made way for Rúben Neves and Rafael Leão.
Portugal were permanently camped inside Liechtenstein’s half, Neves’ shot deflected wide before Vitinha and Gonçalo Ramos replaced Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo.
Neves couldn’t direct Cancelo’s cross on target, Cancelo shot straight at Büchel before Leão couldn’t direct Cancelo’s cross on target.
João Mário replaced Fernandes in the dying minutes, firing over the bar and volleying Leo’s cross against the post with the last opportunity of the match.
Result never in doubt
Roberto Martínez couldn’t have asked for an easier opponent in his first game in charge, the entire population of Liechtenstein fewer than the 45,378 that came to see his side complete a routine victory. This was never going to be game to offer many conclusions, just more questions.
João Palhinha anchored the midfield with Bruno Fernandes playing a supporting role. Bernardo Silva operated primarily on the right side alongside Manchester City teammate João Cancelo, João Félix trying to create combinations with Raphaël Guerreiro down the left side.
Just when you thought Cristiano Ronaldo had broken every international record, his 197th international appearance for Portugal saw him surpass Bader Al-Mutawa's previous world record of 196 outings for Kuwait. He showed no negative emotions when being replaced by Gonçalo Ramos in the 78th minute.
With Portugal’s squad far superior to all the other nations in Group J, it’s extremely unlikely that Martínez will have any problems getting Portugal to the 2024 UEFA European Championship. Trips to Iceland, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are still to come, but the real tests are a long way away.
Back three here to stay?
Martínez’s first squad strongly suggested a back three formation and that’s exactly what we saw in Lisboa with Rúben Dias and Danilo joined by Gonçalo Inácio who was handed his senior debut.
I asked Martínez when he decided that Portugal would be best suited for a back three and the benefits of using that formation, to which he replied: “I’m not a coach that plays a certain system, I’m a coach that tries to get the best out of my players.
“I did that for seven years in the Premier League and six years with Belgium. As a coach you have a choice, you can have a system and try and fit the players into that system, or you can look at your players and try to get the best out of them with balance.
“Today with what we wanted to do and the players we wanted to see, we decided this was the best structure. In the modern game you need to be able to defend with three, with five with four, you need to be able to press high, you need to use the strategy in different ways.
“If I am looking at the dressing room, this Portuguese generation are very good with the ball. We can be a very strong team in transition.”
The obvious question remains, if Martínez wasn't going to persist with a back three, why would he use it against a team that had no attacking threat?
One of the benefits of the back three is the ability for the wing-backs to get further forward. Cancelo had 116 touches, the most of any player on the pitch, and terrorised Liechtenstein’s fragile defence from start to finish.
When Nuno Mendes comes back into the starting side we could see Portugal do just as much damage on the opposite flank.
By Matthew Marshall at Estádio José Alvalade
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Danilo (Rúben Neves, 67’), Rúben Dias, Gonçalo Inácio, João Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes (João Mário, 89’), João Palhinha, Raphael Guerreiro, Bernardo Silva (Vitinha, 78’), Cristiano Ronaldo (Gonçalo Ramos, 78’), João Félix (Rafael Leão, 67’)
[1-0] João Cancelo, 8’
[2-0] Bernardo Silva, 47’
[3-0] Cristiano Ronaldo (pen), 50’
[4-0] Cristiano Ronaldo, 63’