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Published: September 10, 2012
Portugal began its road toward the 2014 World Cup on Friday with a victory over Luxembourg. The team now returns home to face an overmatched Azerbaijan squad in what should be an easy three points if all goes according to plan.
The main competition for Portugal during the group stage will be Russia. Both teams are fighting for the top spot to earn an automatic berth in the World Cup without having to go through the playoff round. So every point matters.
Here’s a look at all the important viewing information for Tuesday’s clash, followed by a preview and prediction for the 2014 World Cup qualifying match.
Where: Estadio Municipal de Braga in Braga, Portugal
When: Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN Deportes
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Portugal Player to Watch: Nani
Nani is extremely talented, but he’s also inconsistent. Those two things have been pretty clear throughout his career. Right now, he’s going through one of his typical cold stretches, with no goals and one assist in his last six appearances split between Manchester United and the national team.
The most common reason for the winger’s struggles is a lack of aggressiveness, and that’s certainly the case here. Nani is at his best when he’s attacking every time he touches the ball, instead of sitting back and letting his teammates start the attack.
A game against Azerbaijan should be exactly what he needs to get going. The defenders should provide every little resistance, allowing him to run free and gain some confidence in the process.
Azerbaijan Player to Watch: Kamran Arhayev
Arhayev will likely be the busiest man on the pitch. The Azerbaijan goalkeeper will be forced to deal with a potent Portugal attack that his defense has very little chance of containing for an extended period of time. It’s a clear mismatch. The 26-year-old keeper will have to play the match of his life just to keep the game close.
Although he enters the game in a tough position given all of Portgual’s talent, it’s also an opportunity for him to shine on a big stage. Since Azerbaijan is expected to get blown out, there really isn’t any pressure on Arhayev. He can just go out and try to lead an upset charge.
Key Matchup: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Azerbaijan back line
Ronaldo has four goals in his last three appearances, illustrating once again why he’s one of the best pure goal scorers on the planet. Few players in the world are capable of making defenders look as bad as he does on a weekly basis.
If Azerbaijan has any hope of keeping the game close, the team must stop Ronaldo from taking over the game early. Given the chance, the Real Madrid sensation will tally two goals before anybody can blink and the rout will be on.
Portugal manager Paulo Bento would like to see Ronaldo help build an early lead so he has the option of removing some of his stars in the second half.
What They’re Saying
Ronaldo has been dealing with some off-field issues at Real Madrid, but he hasn’t let it impact his play. Marcus Christenson of The Guardian reports that he’s remained pretty quiet about the ongoing situation:
When he arrived at the team’s training base at Obidos he muttered: “I am not going to say anything” but then a message filtered through to the media, saying: “Every problem has a solution.”
Portugal 4, Azerbaijan 0
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