The home side managed by Berti Vogts made three changes to their dull 0-0 draw with Luxembourg on Friday, which was likely one of the worst matches the World Cup winning German has ever seen.
Paulo Bento made two changes from the 3-3 draw with Israel, with Danny and Vieirinha replacing Silvestre Varela and the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo.
- Three points are three points and they certainly couldn’t have come at a better time for Portugal, who entered the game third in group F just behind Israel on goal difference.
- Without Ronaldo and with Postiga playing up front it was absolutely no surprise that the winning goal came via a set piece, the third goal scored by Bruno Alves in qualifying, all coming via a header from a set piece.
- In fact the goal today was remarkably similar to the one he scored in the reverse fixture earlier in qualifying. Watch today’s headed goal here. And now take a look at the 2:49 mark here when Joao Moutinho’s excellent corner finds the defender’s head once again.
- Many will see the assist provided by Moutinho but once again the midfield maestro did so much more, including sending a great ball wide to Vieirinha that led to the corner that helped Portugal open the scoring.
- Moutinho really is a special player and a pleasure to watch at the moment, who is in the form of his life. In this match his flexibility, movement and tactical intelligence meant Bento’s standard 4-3-3 was more like 4-2-3-1 in attack. This meant the Porto man was the leader of the press, regularly causing turnovers deep in his opponents half, and the holder of the key to unlock the Azerbaijan’s defence. Although this came via a set-piece and wasn’t a surprise, Bento knew he couldn’t rely on this and pushed Moutinho higher up than normal to get closer to Postiga.
- Despite his goalscoring record for his country (25 goals) Postiga is not a great international forward and is not a man that can be relied on in such circumstances as this. Without Ronaldo, he certainly needed someone with Moutinho’s brain close to him and he had a couple of chances in the first half made by the Porto midfielder.
- Most of Portugal’s chances came via the inventiveness of Moutinho and directness of Danny. Both players recognized the large gap between the lines of four and exposed the space centrally in behind Postiga, creating numerous chances in the first half.
- Azerbaijan reluctance to bring their second bank of four deep came, once again, because of Moutinho who picked his moments to join the attack and sit deep inside a midfield three. In fact his performance was so complete you could make the argument that up against an inferior team, there really was no need for a Raul Meireles type in there and a second striker could have been more useful. More on this shortly.
- The game changed in the 54th minute when English referee Andre Marriner sent off Rauf Aliyev for a second yellow card. The dismissal was certainly harsh on the forward who challenged high for a ball but didn’t make contact with his elbow. Although it was 0-0 at the time it would be too easy to say this helped Portugal score their goals, although it certainly helped them make key changes.
- By this point Portugal were already dominating but with the home side down to 10-men Bento recognised immediately that Vogts played two deep lines of four and five with no striker. Meireles was rightly removed for striker Hugo Almeida as Moutinho could continue to be a deep lying playmaker and a difference maker further up the field in possession. He took his time wearing both masks but it was as the former, just four minutes after the substitution, when he sent a great ball in to Vieirinha that led to the key corner.
- At 1-0 the contest was effectively and over but Portugal fans will be happy how they got a second, again through a wide area, when the excellent Fabio Coentrao found Almeida to head home. Coentrao was one of the brightest players on the night, a night when Bento’s full backs didn’t get forward as much, perhaps knowing that Moutinho would be the one to play closer to Danny and Vieirinha on the flanks.
- Such games are never easy for teams like Portugal. In the wake of San Marino’s demolition to England on Friday many see games like this and expect an easy ride when the truth most international games are not like that. Portugal are also not built to see their dominance occur in the form of a scoreline. They are a patient team in possession that takes their time to break you down. They are far from perfect but with Moutinho and Ronaldo they have two world class stars who should ensure they are in Brazil, even if they need another playoff series to get there.