Portugal 1-0 Azerbaijan: 5 talking points as European champions pick up 3 points | 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 

Portugal defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on Wednesday
Portugal defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on Wednesday

Portugal kickstarted their 2022 World Cup qualifiers on a high note as a first-half own goal by Maksim Medvedev gave them all three points against Azerbaijan on Wednesday.

The game was billed as a home fixture for the European champions but was played at the Allianz Stadium in Turin owing to COVID-19 guidelines.

Portugal manager Fernando Santos named a balanced squad that had experienced heads like Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva as well as fresh faces like Nuno Mendes and Pedro Neto.

The 'hosts' started the game on the front foot and forced Shakrudin Magomedaliyev into two quickfire saves in the 10th minute.

The Azerbaijan goalkeeper soon went down for treatment but was deemed fit enough to keep playing as he continued to pull off fine saves to deny Portugal.

However, Magomedaliyev gifted away the opener with a horrendous error. A routine punch from a cross went awry. His weak punch deflected off his captain Medvedev and into the back of the net.

This was no less than Portugal deserved for their dominant start to the game, but Azerbaijan would have been kicking themselves for the comical way the goal came about.

The second half saw Bruno Fernandes come on for Joao Moutinho, while Gianni De Biassi also made two changes of his own for Azerbaijan.

Portugal upped the ante in a bid to find the second goal, but a combination of poor finishing and inspired saves by Magomedaliyev meant that they failed to kill the game off.

Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes all came close for Portugal but their defense was very rarely threatened. Despite the sustained pressure in the second half, the Iberians failed to add to their advantage.

Nevertheless, the victory takes Portugal joint-top of Group A ahead of their next fixture with fellow group leaders Serbia on Saturday. Up next for Azerbaijan will be a 'friendly' fixture with Qatar, where they will be looking to get back to winning ways.

Here are five talking points from the game.

#5 Even in victory, Portugal failed to truly impress

Portugal struggled against a weaker opposition
Portugal struggled against a weaker opposition

Fernando Santos is the most successful manager in the history of the Portugal national team. However, the 66-year-old has built his success on a pragmatic method that prioritizes compactness over flamboyance.

Playing against a team ranked 108 in the world and without any marquee player meant that Portugal were expected to dominate from start to finish.

That was exactly what happened, particularly in the first half when it looked like the Selecao were going to run roughshod over the Eastern Europeans. However, their momentum slowed down in the second half, and there were several periods of indecisiveness from the Portugal players.

The gruelling nature of this season might have played a part. However, even the introduction of fresher players late in the game did not do much to improve the cohesiveness of their play.

Despite the unconvincing display, victory is all that matters for the European champions. Having said that, they have to significantly up their game, otherwise they run the risk of being found out by a better side.

#4 Azerbaijan's goal drought continues

Azerbaijan did not threaten the Portugal defense
Azerbaijan did not threaten the Portugal defense

Azerbaijan are not exactly famed for being a footballing powerhouse, and it came as no surprise that they did not really threaten the Portugal goal.

They had just 32% of the ball against their more illustrious opponents and failed to register a single shot on target.

This blank means that Azerbaijan have now gone six games without a goal, with their last goal coming back in September 2020 when Maksim Medvedev's 29th minute strike gave them a 1-0 away victory over Cyprus.

Since then, they have gone over 10 hours without finding the back of the net and did not come close to doing so against Portugal.

#3 Despite his mistake, Shakrudin Magomedaliyev brought his A-game to Turin

Portugal's Bruno Fernandes was denied with a stunning save late on
Portugal's Bruno Fernandes was denied with a stunning save late on

Shakhban Magomedaliyev was both a hero and villain for Azerbaijan against Portugal. His ill-advised decision to dive out and his subsequent weak punch saw the ball deflect off Medvedev for the opener.

However, beyond that, the 26-year-old was nearly unstoppable throughout the game and produced several fine saves in both halves to keep his side in the match.

Two quickfire saves in the first 10 minutes gave a foreboding of what was to come in the game. However, the Azerbaijan goalkeeper proved to be ready for everything Portugal threw at him.

His standout saves came in the second half when he showed great reflexes to get a fingertip to Bruno Fernandes' strike from the edge of the area. Joao Felix was also denied from six yards out when Cristiano Ronaldo played the Atletico Madrid star through on goal.

In total, the Qarabag goalkeeper made 14 saves in the game. Despite gifting Portugal the opener, he more than made amends for his first-half error.

#2 Nuno Mendes impresses on his Portugal debut

Nuno Mendes made his debut for Portugal
Nuno Mendes made his debut for Portugal

Portugal has one of the most talented pools of players on the international scene. The intense competition for places means that few are guaranteed their spot in the European championship.

In the last year, Nuno Mendes has emerged as one of the highest-rated prospects in European football, and his performances for Sporting Lisbon have led to interest from several elite clubs.

The 18-year-old had another opportunity to impress in Portugal's colors, having been handed his debut against Azerbaijan. Despite being surrounded by world-beaters on the international stage, Mendes did not miss a beat and was one of the standout players for Fernando Santos.

In total, the Sporting man made three key passes, had one interception and completed two tackles.

With most of Europe's elite clubs keeping a keen eye on him, Nuno Mendes did not disappoint and boosted his stock massively with a fine performance.

#1 Quiet game for Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to make an impact
Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to make an impact

The last fortnight has been one of mixed feelings for Cristiano Ronaldo. First, he suffered the ignominy of an early exit from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Porto. He followed that up with a complete hat-trick in the 3-1 victory over Cagliari.

What followed was another embarrassing defeat to Benevento, which all but ended the Bianconeri's hopes of winning a 10th Scudetto in a row.

The game against Azerbaijan offered the Portugal captain a chance to get back on track, but it was a rather frustrating evening for him.

A dogged defense kept him at bay for most of the game, and his best chances were limited to set-pieces that failed to trouble the Azerbaijan goal.

The second half saw Ronaldo show signs of fatigue, and he struggled to make a mark as the game wore on. His best piece of play came when he showed great skill to set Joao Felix up in the final 10 minutes. However, a splendid save by Magomedaliyev denied the Juventus man an assist.

Cristiano Ronaldo will have another chance to get back on track when Portugal travel to Belgrade on Saturday to take on Serbia.

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Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh
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