Latvia 0-3 Portugal
It was far from a vintage performance, but Portugal were too strong for Latvia in Riga this evening, winning 3-0 as they continue to chase down Switzerland in their quest for first place in Group B and automatic qualification for the Russia World Cup.
Two goals from captain Cristiano Ronaldo and another by André Silva continued their prolific partnership. Since being paired up front after Euro 2016, the duo have netted 17 goals between them in five World Cup qualifying matches.
Santos gave Gelson Martins a start on the right flank, with André Gomes joining William and Moutinho in midfield, while Bruno Alves came in for the injured Pepe. Manchester City’s new €50m man Bernardo Silva had to be content with a place on the bench.
The hosts surprised Portugal with a bright start, albeit without creating chances, but after Latvia’s burst of energy in the opening ten minutes, the Seleção began to hog possession. Nevertheless, the European champions laboured to fashion any clear chances, a series of crosses into the box proving easy pickings for the Latvian defence.
Inevitably, Portugal’s only moments of real danger came from the boot of Cristiano Ronaldo, two well struck shots from 25 yards bringing sharp saves out of Vanins.
It was third time lucky for the Real Madrid man as Portugal broke the deadlock shortly before half time. André Gomes chipped an inviting cross into the box where José Fonte rose well and thudded a header against the post, with Ronaldo diving to head in the rebound from point-blank range.
As in the first half, Latvia started well after coming out of the dressing room for the second 45 minutes, putting together a modicum of pressure. Patrício helped over a powerful free kick by Laizans, but Portugal soon resumed control.
Ronaldo continued his battle with Vanins forcing the goalkeeper to save low to his left, before William just failed to turn in a typically towering Bruno Alves header from a corner. Portugal’s nerves were settled in the 63rd minute as Ronaldo was again in the right place at the right time to head in a deflected cross by Ricardo Quaresma, on as a substitute for the ineffective Gelson Martins.
It was soon 3-0 as André Silva showed tenacity to win the ball with a sliding tackle, knocking the ball back to William. A simple combination play saw the Sporting midfielder immediately provide a short pass to Ronaldo, who laid on a perfect assist for Silva to coolly slot into the net.
From that moment onwards you sensed Portugal were starting to think about their upcoming Confederations Cup participation, although there was still time for Ronaldo to twice come close to completing his hat-trick.
It was not the most memorable of games, but the Seleção remain on course for the 2018 World Cup and Santos adds to his incredible qualifying record that now reads 12 wins and 1 defeat in 13 matches.
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by Tom Kundert
Latvia: Vanins, Jagodinskis, Kolesovs, Gorkšs, Maksimenko, Laizans, Kazacoks (Vardanjans, 73’), Kluškins (Indrans, 62’), Solovjovs, Šabala, Ikaunieks (Rakels, 68’)
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Cedric Soares (Nelson Semedo, 72’), Fonte, Bruno Alves, Guerreiro, William, (Quaresma, 55’), Moutinho, André Gomes, André Silva (Nani, 79’), Ronaldo
[0-1] Ronaldo, 41’
[0-2] Ronaldo, 63’
[0-3] André Silva, 67’