Portugal reclaimed top spot in Group A as they cruised to a 3-0 victory over Azerbaijan in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier.
In the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, who became the all-time international top men’s goalscorer against the Republic of Ireland, the goals were shared around by Fernando Santos’ men.
Bruno Fernandes played a part in the first two, teeing up Bernardo Silva for the opener before crossing for Diogo Jota to set up Andre Silva for the second.
Without Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev, matters could have been far worse for Azerbaijan, but the goalkeeper was powerless to stopping Jota add a third in the second half.
The visitors dominated the opening stages, registering 66.7 per cent possession in the first 15 minutes but Fernandes lashed the only half-chance over.
Portugal’s possessional patience eventually paid off, Bernardo Silva ghosting in to latch onto Fernandes’ deep cross and volley home via the left-hand post with his left foot.
Fernandes was involved in the second goal, too, crossing from the right flank to find Jota, who redirected back across goal for Andre Silva to tap in inside the six-yard area.
Andre Silva should have doubled his account four minutes later after being rolled through by Fernandes, only to drag a glorious chance wide with the goal at his mercy.
A minute after the break, Jota failed to make it three as he sliced wide of an almost open net after profiting from Fernandes’ drilled teaser from the right flank.
Fernandes looked for a goal of his own from range, but Mahammadaliyev parried the dipping effort away before keeping out Bernando Silva’s fizzing left-footed strike.
After being denied from close range by Mahammadaliyev and blasting over, Jota finally found the back of the net, nodding home after Joao Cancelo’s delivery from the right.
What does it mean? Portugal wrestle back top spot
It was always going to be an uphill task for Azerbaijan after Bernardo Silva’s opener, given Fernando Santos’ men are unbeaten since 2009 when scoring the opening goal in World Cup qualifiers.
Indeed, Portugal boast the best defensive record in Group A, but they are by no means cruising in qualification, topping the table on 13 points with second-place Serbia three points behind by the virtue of playing later on Tuesday.
Azerbaijan, who ended a two-game losing streak with a draw against the Republic of Ireland last time out, sit bottom on goal difference after collecting just the sole point.
Cruise control for Cancelo
Fernandes may take credit for his playmaking clinic, which saw him produce three key passes including his assist.
However, Cancelo sneaked under the radar as he produced a dominant display. The right-back assisted Jota’s header with a deep cross from the right flank and was seemingly everywhere in Baku.
The Manchester City defender recorded 121 touches and 77 successful passes – both game-leading figures – while also completing a team-high four tackles in a complete showing.
Namiq Alasgarov cut an isolated figure up top, with matters made worse by his first-half caution for a reckless challenge on Joao Moutinho.
The forward’s 38 touches were the lowest of any outfield player to play 90 minutes and he only won a third of the nine duels he competed for as he struggled against Ruben Dias and Pepe.
Portugal host Luxembourg in their next qualifier on October 12 after a friendly against Qatar, while Azerbaijan invite the Republic of Ireland to Baku on October 9.
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