Portugal will travel to Azerbaijan this week for what is shaping up to be a very important 2014 World Cup qualifier—especially after all that's transpired so far in the competition for the European powerhouse.
After a sluggish start to the qualifying process that's seen them win just two of their five fixtures so far, Portugal will come into this one knowing that they have to get some sort of a result if they want to keep pace with group leaders Russia. They are already four points clear of Portugal with a game in hand—making the need for a strong performance in this one crucial for Paulo Bento's men.
Azerbaijan certainly won't be a walkover for Portugal, having drawn their only home game all season, and will look to hold off the European powerhouse here.
Will the Navigators showcase enough attacking strength to win this one, or will it be further qualifying frustration for Bento's side? Read on for a full preview of this key World Cup qualifier, including all the key details and live viewing information.
Date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Start time: 1:00 p.m. ET (Eastern time, United States)
Venue: Tofiq Bahramov Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
Live Stream and TV Info
According to Live Soccer TV, coverage of this match can be seen throughout the United States via ESPN Deportes, with ESPN3 also providing a live stream.
2014 World Cup Qualifying so Far
Portugal currently sit in third position in Group F behind Russia (12 points) and Israel (eight points) with eight points of their own coming into this week.
Having opened their qualifying campaign with a road win over Luxembourg and then a home win over Azerbaijan, Portugal haven't won a game since then. They went down 1-0 away from home to Russia and then drew against Northern Ireland and Greece.
Moreover, their two international friendlies since that Russia defeat have also seen them struggle—picking up a draw to Gabon and a loss to Ecuador.
Azerbaijan have also started slowly in the qualifiers this year, and they're yet to win a game in the tournament so far. They've drawn at home to Israel and then picked up points on the road to Northern Ireland and Luxembourg, as well as defeats to both Portugal and Russia away from home.
Interestingly, the Eastern European side have only played the one game at home so far in the qualifying process, and they finished with a 1-1 draw against Israel, who were very unlucky not to beat Portugal over the weekend.
They finished with a 3-3 draw against Portugal who, as a result, may well be in for a closer match against Azerbaijan than they had expected.
Key Storyline to Watch: How Will Missing Players Affect Portugal?
With the pressure clearly on them in this one, perhaps the most fascinating storyline to watch will be as to how Portugal handle themselves under that pressure—particularly given that they'll be missing a number of big-name players against Azerbaijan.
Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is suspended from this game, having picked up a yellow card in the draw against Israel. His presence is a huge miss for the away side, and their attack will be seriously depleted as a result of his absence.
Moreover, Manchester United player Nani is also unavailable for this one, after the winger picked up a hamstring injury recently on club duty.
The absence of both of those players definitely leaves Portugal's attack without some key attacking weapons, but it also leaves them without a wealth of experience. With those two missing, only two players in the likely starting lineup will have played more than 10 international fixtures.
Fabio Coentrao and Raul Meireles are both thought to be battling injuries of their own and could well miss this one (all details via Yahoo! Sports).
Portugal will definitely come into this one as the better team and will be expected to win, but it's hard to see them being their dominant selves in this one.
Having already struggled in the World Cup qualifiers so far, the absence of key players (especially in attack) will no doubt hinder their effectiveness against Azerbaijan, who have shown to be a strong defensive team throughout the qualifiers so far.
With the home-ground advantage, I'd expect Azerbaijan to set up very strong across the back and try and sneak a goal on the counterattack against Portugal.
And while I don't think they have enough to break down the defense of Bento's side, I think they will have enough to hold out against Portugal's attack here—extending Portugal's World Cup frustration for another week and putting them in serious danger of missing the tournament altogether.
Final score: Azerbaijan 0, Portugal 0
What do you think will happen in this 2014 World Cup Qualifier?
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