Reigning European champion Portugal picked up its third straight win of 2018 World Cup qualifying on Sunday with a 4-1 result over Latvia from Estadio Algarve. Cristiano Ronaldo recorded a brace in the dominating Portuguese effort.
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Portugal entered Sunday in second place in Group B, three points behind a Switzerland team that defeated it 2-0 during the opening match of qualifying. Since then, Portugal has put up a pair of 6-0 victories over Andorra and the Faroe Islands—two programs that don't pose much of a threat on the international stage.
Latvia created more of a difficult defense to break down compared to Portugal's prior opponents, however. It kept things condensed, especially down the center of the pitch, restricting Portugal's time within its penalty area.
While it was surprising that Portugal didn't find an early tally, this was a Latvia team that hadn't conceded a goal on the road in over 520 minutes, according to the FS2 telecast. The streak came toppling down when Ronaldo played Nani into the box and was tripped up by Gints Freimanis to win a penalty.
Ronaldo stepped up in the 28th minute and sent a hard, low shot into the bottom left corner to give Portugal the lead and his sixth goal in three matches for the national side.
Even though Portugal kept pressuring, it couldn't find a second well into the second half.
Ronaldo had a golden opportunity for a second from the penalty spot when Glebs Kluskins took down Andre Gomes, but the attempt went off the crossbar, off the back of Latvian keeper Andris Vanins and out.
Latvia sent a shock in the 67th minute when Arturs Zjuzins sent home a left-footed shot past Rui Patricio to give the visitors an unlikely equalizer. But it would last all of two minutes when William Carvalho headed in a cross from Ricardo Quaresma to put Portugal back in front.
Quaresma played provider for Portugal's third and Ronaldo's second in the 85th minute as his cross from the right was hit first time on the volley by the world's highest-paid player and cannoned into the back of the goal, via Fox Soccer:
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Cristiano Ronaldo volley alert! He makes makes it 3-1 for Portugal over Latvia in #WCQ. https://t.co/uKmxpiBJtb2016-11-13 21:34:25
To put the icing on Portugal's victory, Bruno Alves converted a header from the left of Vanins' goal during the second minute of added time.
Given the home side's domination, it was a well-deserved result considering it bossed 75 percent of possession and outshot Latvia 26-6 over the 90 minutes.
Still, three straight wins against European minnows isn't much to blink at. But Portugal's defeating the teams it's supposed to will make qualifying for a fifth straight World Cup easier. Switzerland remains three points ahead after defeating the Faroe Islands 2-0 on Sunday.
Portugal manager Fernando Santos might have been happy with the win, but he accused his side of taking Latvia too lightly when speaking with A Bola (via ESPNFC.com):
We complicated things in the first half because we lacked intensity. In terms of possession of the ball, we were good, but we lacked acceleration in our play. At the break, I spoke with the players and we started better, we created chances, played a little faster, but then we conceded a goal. However, the team reacted really well and got a goal themselves.
He believed the substitution of Quaresma did wonders for his side as the midfielder recorded a pair of assists while sparking the attack: "Quaresma's entrance worked really well, because when we think that these games are easy, we make them difficult for ourselves."
Portugal will not partake in another qualifier until March when it takes on Hungary—a team just two points adrift in third place within Group B.