Portugal revive World Cup hopes with 2-0 win in Azerbaijan
Portugal kept their World Cup qualifying hopes alive with a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan to move just one point behind Group F leaders Russia.
The visitors dominated from the outset in Baku, but had to wait until the hour-mark to take the initiative as Bruno Alves powered a header past Kamran Agayev at the near post.
Second-half substitute Hugo Almeida added a second in the 79th minute as Azerbaijan finished the encounter with 10 men.
It was all Portugal early on as Danny saw an effort comfortably saved by Agayev and Joao Moutinho fired over the bar from distance in an encounter Paulo Bento’s men needed to win.
Moutinho flashed another shot wide from the edge of the area and Helder Postiga forced a good save out of Agayev from distance as the visitors pressed Azerbaijan early on.
Postiga directed his header goal-bound having met Vieirinha cross, but Agayev was equal to the effort as Portugal maintained their intense start midway through the first half.
Azerbaijan captain Rashad Sadygov was forced into a superb last-ditch challenge to deny Postiga, while Miguel Veloso saw his curling free-kick drift agonisingly wide as the hosts continued to frustrate Bento’s side.
Alves came closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes, but the powerful centre-back could only see his free-kick rebound off the post as Portugal struggled to find a way past Agayev.
Azerbaijan’s task was made more difficult in the 55th minute when striker Rauf Aliyev was given his marching orders as referee Andre Marriner deemed his elbow on Raul Meireles worthy of a second yellow card.
Portugal looked to make the most of their numerical advantage almost instantaneously, but Meireles could only flash his effort from a tight angle wide of the far post before being substituted.
The visitors continued to press the hosts and took the initiative in the 63rd minute as Alves headed a Moutinho corner past Agayev at the near post.
Portugal pushed for a second and were rewarded with 11 minutes remaining when Fabio Coentrao went forward and expertly picked out Almeida at the back post to head into an empty net to secure all three points.
The 2-0 win for the visitors moves them to within one point of Group F pacesetters Russia, albeit having played two games more, and all but ends Azerbaijan’s hopes of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Current Standings – FIFA WC 2014 Qualification UEFA Group F
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