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27/03/21

Group A qualifier (3)
Luxembourg

Luxembourg 1-3 Portugal
(Gerson Rodrigues 30 / Diogo Jota 45+2, Cristiano Ronaldo 51, Palhinha 80)

After the drama and bitterness of the draw in Serbia, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo having a good goal not given at the death, the Seleção (and Cristiano Ronaldo) were expected to bounce back with a vengeance against improved-in-recent-years but still-minnows Luxembourg. Neither thing happened.

In a turgid first half, Portugal plugged away inconsequentially against a solid Luxembourg defence, who took opportunities to break, Sinani threatening on 14 minutes. It was 25 minutes before Portugal really troubled Luxembourg, Moris punching away a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick from the left. Four minutes later, however, Renato Sanches - Portugal’s brightest, srongest player in midfield - shot well for Moris to save. If Portugal thought it might be the beginning of something better, they had another think coming: on the half-hour, Chanot crossed from the right with the useful Gerson Rodrigues sneaking in between Rúbens Dias and Neves to head home. Portugal tried to react to the setback, Bernardo Silva forcing Moris to save again, but they suffered what looked like another setback when João Félix had to be subbed through injury on 40 minutes, replaced by Pedro Neto; the Wolves forward was to prove an excellent replacement, though. Portugal came close on 43, Renato Sanches again testing Moris from 25 metres, and on 45, Cristino Ronaldo missed a header that a different CR would have buried. Then deep into added time, Neto collected the ball to the left of the box, looked up and floated a perfect cross over for Diogo Jota to head home his third goal in two games. It was the last ‘kick’ of the half, and Portugal trudged off the pitch mightily relieved at the late lifeline.

Words must have been said during the break because Fernando Santos’s men came out with new resolve, and within five minutes they were in front, Cristiano Ronaldo timing his run perfectly to tap in Cancelo’s cross from the right. A minute later, the irreverent Nuno Mendes broke into the area and forced Moris to turn his shot past the right-hand post, but then Gerson came close up the other end two minutes later, and Sébastien Thill brought a good save from Anthony Lopes on 70 minutes. The score was still precarious - Portugal needed a cushion. It didn’t come from their leader; on 78, Cristiano Ronaldo proved that he’s off his game with a double-miss after Luxembourg defender Christopher Martins had passed the ball back without looking to the feet of the Portugal captain, who had just the keeper to beat. Then on 80 minutes, they got that cushion, João Palhinha, on for Bernardo Silva, heading in from a Pedro Neto corner on the left - his first goal for the Seleção. Chanot saw a second yellow five minutes from time, stopping Renato Sanches on the break, and that was the death knell for Luxembourg.

So three more points that take Portugal to the top of Group A, above Serbia on goal difference, but the performance was once again far from stellar. “We were playing in a kickabout for 30 minutes,” said Fernando Santos, “with no intensity - very amorphous.” No one would disagree.

Portugal Man of the Match: Renato Sanches

Portugal: Anthony Lopes, Nuno Mendes, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, João Cancelo, Bernardo Silva (João Palhinha 68), Renato Sanches, Rúben Neves (Sérgio Oliveira 89), João Félix (Pedro Neto 41), Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota (Rafa Silva 68)

Subs not used: José Sá, Rui Silva, Luís Neto, Domingos Duarte, André Silva, Cédric

Luxembourg: Moris, Mica Pinto (Marvin Martins 66), Lars Gerson, Chanot, Jans, Christopher Martins (Skenderovic 87), Gerson Rodrigues, Vincent Thill (Deville 59), Barreiro, Olivier Thill (Sébastien Thill 58), Sinani (Muratovic 87)

Subs not used: Schon, Fox, Mahmutovic, Bohnert, Rupil, Dzogovic

 

27/03/21

Group A qualifier (2)
Belgrade

Serbia 2-2 Portugal
(Mitrovic 46, Kostic 60 / Diogo Jota 11, 36)

Fernando Santos, for whom this game was the 1000th as a coach, made some changes from the win against Azerbaijan: Cédric came in for Nuno Mendes (with Cancelo moving to the left), Fonte for Domingos Duarte, Danilo, Sérgio Oliveira and Bruno Fernandes for Rúben Neves, João Moutinho and Pedro Neto, and Diogo Jota for André Silva. Fernando Santos appeared to be admitting that Serbia would be more of a challenge, and that some big guns were needed. So it would ultimately prove.

If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it. Fernando Santos’s men started very strongly, comfortably in control of a Serbia that seemed a little taken aback by their quality. Portugal’s front line was very mobile, they were pressing all over the pitch, passing was crisp, meaningful and objective, always with one eye on goal. Bernardo Silva made the line on the right on eight minutes and cut the ball back for Cristiano Ronaldo, but he blasted over from ten metres. Three minutes later, the roles were reversed and it was Cristiano Ronaldo who found himself to the right of the area, surrounded by red shirts. The Portuguese captain touched the ball back to Bernardo Silva who curled a beautiful pin-point cross to the back post where Diogo Jota was lurking to head in. It was no more than Portugal deserved, but for a spell after the goal, they let Serbia back in the game, their attacking efforts invariably targeted towards Mitrovic and Vlahovic. Portugal gradually regained control, though, and on 36 minutes, Bernardo Silva fed Cédric on the right and the Arsenal full-back crossed for Diogo Jota to once again beat his markers and head in.

Going in 2-0 up and convincing, few would have expected a turnaround in the second half, but that’s exactly what happened and as early as the 46th minute. In a sweeping move from the back, the excellent Tadic found Radonjic on the right (who looked suspiciously offside), and the sub who had just come on crossed for Mitrovic to prove stronger than Fonte and Danilo and head in. It was his 39th goal for his country, beating Stjepan Bobek’s record, set in the 1950s. Portugal were rattled by the goal and never really recovered, Fernando Santos reacting late to what would be a long, dominant spell from Serbia, whose midfield was transformed; you had to wonder what the Portuguese coach had told his players during the break.

On 54 minutes, Tadic forced Anthony Lopes to tip over his 25-metres shot, and from the resulting corner, Savic headed just wide. Portugal were finding it impossible to keep possession, and Serbia grew in confidence in direct proportion to Portugal’s shrinking. Then on 60 minutes, Serbia broke again, through the middle of Portugal’s midfeld, with Kostic finding himself through and making no mistake with his shot. It was Serbia’s half, but they took their foot off and almost lost their point with almost the last kick of the game: Nuno Mendes, on as sub for Cancelo, crossed from deep on the left to the back post. Keeper Dmitrovic misjudged the flight of the ball, Cristiano Ronaldo got to it, nudged it goalwards … and it rolled over the line … but Serbian centre-back Stefan Mitrovic slid in and hooked the ball out of the goal. Bernardo Silva followed up and hit the loose ball, but it was blocked. Cristiano Ronaldo was incandescent that the linesman hadn’t seen the ball go over (there is no goal-line technology or VAR in the qualifiers) and remonstrated with him rather too vehemently, getting a yellow. He was still fuming, and the game was still going on, when he walked towards the tunnel, throwing his captain’s armband down; an unsavoury scene.

He was quick to post on social media: "Being Captain of Portugal is one of the greatest prides and privileges of my life. I give and will always give all for my country - that will never change. But there are moments that are hard to handle, especially when it's a whole nation being harmed." Fernando Santos said after the game: “The ball was more than half a metre over the line, although that doesn’t rule out what we did that wasn’t so good.” Indeed. He also said that the ref had apologised to him. But being so much in control of the game, letting it slip so dramatically, then not reacting to what was going on in the second half, is something that Fernando Santos must hold his hand up for.

Portugal Man of the Match: Bernardo Silva

Portugal: Anthony Lopes, João Cancelo (Nuno Mendes 72), José Fonte, Rúben Dias, Cédric, Danilo, Sérgio Oliveira (Renato Sanches 73), Bruno Fernandes (Palhinha 90+1), Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota (João Félix 86), Cristiano Ronaldo

Subs not used: Rui Silva, José Sá, Luís Neto, Domingos Duarte, André Silva, Rafa, Rúben Neves, Pedro Neto

Serbia: Dmitrovic, Milenkovic, S. Mitrovic, Pavlovic, Lazovic (Maksimovic 45), Milinkovic-Savic, Gudelj, Tadic (Djuricic 81), Kostic (Ristic 72), Vlahovic (Radonjic 45), A. Mitrovic (Jovic 88).

Subs not used: Rajkovic, Nikolic, Petkovic, Spajic, Zivkovic, Krsticic, Grujic

 

24/03/21

Group A qualifier (1)
Turin

Portugal 1-0 Azerbaijan
(Medvedev og 37)

Portugal kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a win, though it was far from an impressive display against international minnows Azerbaijan.

It was the Seleção that dominated the game, with a shot total in the 20s. In the first half, Portugal’s main flow of attack was down the right, with Bernardo Silva, Pedro Neto, Rúben Neves and Cancelo invariably involved. André Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Domingos Duarte and João Cancelo all had half chances, all squandered or saved by the impressive Azeri keeper Mahammadaliyev. He pulled off a fine save to deny a typically vicious Rúben Neves shot on 36 minutes, parrying the ball to his left. But the ball came back in, once again through Rúben Neves, and this time Mahammadaliyev was reckless in coming ten metres off his line to attempt a punch, only to see the ball hit captain Medvedev in the chest and bounce into the goal. The stain always gets on the best tablecloth, as the Portuguese saying kind of goes. At the other end, Anthony Lopes barely touched the ball, though on 40 minutes he misjudged a cross and the useful Ghorbani headed over.

Bruno Fernandes replaced João Moutinho at half-time to give the attack a little more urgency and precision, but it was Azerbaijan that grew in confidence. On 50 minutes, they gave Portugal a warning shot, ex-Boavista player Emin Makhmudov sending over a free-kick that Ghorbani met but headed over. It was a much more balanced half, though Azerbaijan proved a little toothless up front, except for a chance on 70 minutes: Anthony Lopes punched out a cross from the left that fell for Nuriev, but he emulated Ghorbani and put his shot over. Portugal’s two best chances came in the last 15 minutes: Cristiano Ronaldo held the ball up on the edge of the box and laid it off for Bruno Fernandes, whose rasping drive was tipped over by the inevitable Mahammadaliyev; then into added time, Cristiano Ronaldo combined well with João Félix, on as sub, but his shot was saved by … that man again. In the dying minutes, coach Fernando Santos brought on Sérgio Oliveira and Palhinha to secure the result … against Azerbaijan.

“It was important to start with a win,” said Santos. “Now let’s talk calmly and analyze the game. The one against Serbia [on 27 March] will be different, but I have the maximum confidence in my players.”

So while the result was right, and three points are in the bag, a certain lack of focus, objectivity and killer instinct will need correcting before the much more demanding visit to Serbia.

Portugal Man of the Match: Rúben Neves

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

Subs not used: José Sá, Rui Silva, Luís Neto, José Fonte, Cédric, Renato Sanches, Diogo Jota

Azerbaijan: Mahammadaliyev, Medvedev, Badalov, B. Huseynov (Nuriev HT), Krivotsyuk, A. Huseynov, Makhmudov (Isaev 84), Mustafayev (Ibrahimli HT), Salahli, Emreli (Alasgarov 85), Ghorbani (Seydayev 84)

(Portugal were the theoretical hosts but the game was played at Juventus’s stadium in Turin to avoid England/Portugal Covid complications for the Seleção’s England-based players.)

 

23/03/21

Left back Raphaël Guerreiro has dropped out of the squad through injury and may leave an opening for Sporting’s Nuno Mendes to get his first cap.

 

21/03/21

Sporting centre-back Luís Neto has been called up to replace Pepe, who suffered a calf injury in FC Porto’s game at Portimonense.

 

20/03/21

Rui Patrício has dropped out of the squad through injury (sustained for Wolves), to be replaced by José Sá of Olympiacos.

 

16/03/21

Seleção coach Fernando Santos announced on Tuesday his squad for the upcoming World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Azerbaijan (24/03, Turin), Serbia (27/03, Belgrade) and Luxembourg (30/03, Luxembourg).

Compared to the last call-up, in come debutants Nuno Mendes and Palhinha of Sporting, plus the returning Cédric Soares, Rafa Silva and André Silva. Out go Nélson Semedo, Mário Rui, William Carvalho, Francisco Trincão and Paulinho.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Rui Patrício (Wolves), Rui Silva (Granada), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), José Sá (Olympiacos)

Defenders: Cédric Soares (Arsenal), João Cancelo and Rúben Dias (Manchester City), Domingos Duarte (Granada), José Fonte (Lille), Pepe (FC Porto), Nuno Mendes (Sporting), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)

Midfielders: Danilo (PSG), Palhinha (Sporting), Rúben Neves and João Moutinho (Wolves), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Lille), Sérgio Oliveira (FC Porto)

Forwards: André Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), João Félix (Atlético Madrid), Pedro Neto (Wolves), Rafa Silva (Benfica).

 

07/12/20

The draw for qualifying took place in Zürich for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Matches will be played between March and November 2021.

Portugal were drawn in Group A along with Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. The history between Portugal and their group opponents is:

 

 

p

w

d

l

f

a

 Serbia

6

3

3

0

11

7

 Republic Ireland

13

7

2

4

20

7

 Luxembourg

17

15

1

1

51

7

 Azerbaijan

6

5

1

0

18

1

 

 

 

 

The top teams in the 10 groups qualify, while second places go to the play-offs. Two teams will also come from the Nations League.

Play-offs are in March 2022. The Finals take place in Qatar between 21 November and 18 December, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

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