BSP-02 Portugal struggle to narrow World Cup qualifying win over Azerbaijan

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BSP-02

FBL-WC-2022-EUR-POR-AZE

Portugal struggle to narrow World Cup qualifying win over Azerbaijan

TURIN, Italy, March 25, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – European champions Portugal got
their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start thanks to an
Azerbaijan own goal in a tight 1-0 Group A victory in Turin on Wednesday.

Azeri captain Maksim Medvedev turned the ball into his own net on 36
minutes, but that was all Portugal could muster against their 108th-ranked
opponents.

“We had some difficulties, some problems, it’s undeniable,” said Portugal
coach Fernando Santos, after his 50th win in charge from 80 matches.

“In the second half, the team lacked inspiration and fluidity.”

Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score at his club side’s Juventus Stadium —
with the game on neutral ground due to coronavirus travel restrictions —
remaining seven goals short of Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time international
scoring record of 109 goals.

Portugal struggled due to poor finishing, a dogged Azeri defence and a
series of fine saves from visiting goalkeeper Shakhrudin Magomedaliyev.

“We haven’t been playing together for quite a while,” Santos added. “It’s
normal we need to warm up a bit more, but we’ve done what everyone expected
us to do.

“We ended up winning, it’s true with an own goal, but maybe we would have
deserved to win with a higher score.

“I’m quite satisfied with the performance, even if there is room for
improvement. Our future is quite promising.

“We want to get back on track now against opponents who will be attacking
more than tonight.”

– Profligate Portugal –

The Portuguese were camped in front of their rivals’ goal early,
dominating the first half, with an Andre Silva header flying over the bar in
the 12th minute.

The Azeri keeper kept out a Ronaldo header on 23 minutes, with Manchester
City’s Joao Cancelo rifling just wide from a tight angle before the half-hour
mark.

The breakthrough came from a goalmouth scramble, with Magomedaliyev
punching the ball out, hitting Medvedev and bouncing into the back of his own
net.

Ronaldo sent an overhead kick attempt before the break over and missed
further chances to score his 103rd Portugal goal in the second half despite
Azerbaijan being more dangerous after the break.

Joao Felix came off the bench for the final quarter of an hour but did not
find a second goal.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo set up Bruno Fernandes with 15
minutes to go, but the Manchester United midfielder’s shot was tipped over
the bar by Magomedaliyev, who saved a Ronaldo free-kick at full stretch with
five minutes to go.

“This is an acceptable result, many feared Portugal could score many goals
against us,” said Azerbaijan’s Italian coach Giovanni De Biasi.

“We were too shy in the first half, in the second half we changed
something and things improved, even considering the technical differences
between the two teams.”

Portugal, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1966 and 2006, next
travel to Serbia on Saturday and Luxembourg three days later.

BSS/AFP/FI/ 0826 hrs