A Cristiano Ronaldo brace pushed Portugal to a 3-0 win over Latvia on Friday at the Skonto Stadium in Riga, keeping the pressure up on Switzerland in FIFA World Cup qualifying Group B.
At the end of a tight first half, Ronaldo was on hand to head home a scrappy opener for the visitors. In the second period he was in the right place at the right time once again, nodding home Ricardo Quaresma’s deflected cross. Andre Silva made the match safe soon after.
The win means Portugal remain three points behind group leaders Switzerland, who overcame the Faroe Islands on Friday.
With Ronaldo back in the squad after his UEFA Champions League heroics with Real Madrid, the European champions wouldn’t have expected too much trouble here.
The early stages of the game were fractured, though, as Portugal failed to settle into any sort of rhythm. It was no surprise to see that when they went ahead four minutes before the interval, it wasn’t the most eye-catching of goals.
Andre Gomes hammered an effort against the bar, and unsurprisingly Ronaldo was in the right place to head home the rebound from almost on the line, as we can see courtesy of Sky Football:
Sky Football ⚽️ @SkyFootball
GOAL! Latvia 0-1 Portugal (Ronaldo) Watch on Sky Sports 5 HD. Live blog: https://t.co/nbEVMeASpe https://t.co/VtgAqjxhQg2017-6-9 19:29:55
The goal was a bodyblow for the hosts, who had been defending gamely up until this point. Chins were buried into chests as they trudged off at half-time.
In the second period, Portugal really did step things up, and the introduction of Quaresma added further spark to their attacking play. The winger was involved in a slick move as the Selecao doubled their advantage on 63 minutes.
Quaresma’s cross ricocheted off a defender, over the goalkeeper and perfectly into the path of Ronaldo, who couldn't miss. As noted by sports journalist Tom Kundert, the Madrid man has been thriving in the colours of his national team lately:
Tom Kundert @PortuGoal1
Ronaldo has scored 11 goals in 5 WC qualifying games for Portugal.2017-6-9 20:07:47
Ronaldo’s goals on the night were his 72nd and 73rd for Portugal. As noted by Squawka Football, they’re strikes that edged him closer to a history-making mark:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Most international goals by a European player: 🇭🇺 Ferenc Puskás (84) 🇭🇺 Sándor Kocsis (75) 🇵🇹 Cristiano Ronaldo (73) 🇩🇪 Miroslav Klose (71) https://t.co/SC3g4dLDbh2017-6-9 20:11:18
After conceding again, Latvia were on the ropes, and with Ronaldo finding more and more space in the final third, the match did begin to run away from the ragged minnows.
The Portugal captain was involved in the third goal too. The away side nicked possession high up the pitch and fed Ronaldo in space on the edge of the penalty area. Instead of going for goal himself, the 32-year-old rolled the ball across goal into the path of Silva, who made no mistake.
As noted by Scouted Football, in Silva, Portugal may have a solution to what has been a long-term problem position:
Scouted Football @ScoutedFtbl
Andre Silva (21) has now scored 7 goals in his last 7 games for the Portugal senior side. 🇵🇹 Have they finally found their number nine? 🤔 https://t.co/SF2wOFnW1w2017-6-9 20:13:18
Despite showcasing generosity in this instance, it was clear Ronaldo wanted to grab his hat-trick on the night. He spurned a great opportunity when played in by Nelson Semedo.
However, at the end of a long season, it was no shock to see the Selecao take the sting out of the game by keeping possession late on and preserving their advantage.
It’s five qualifying wins in a row for Fernando Santos’ side now, a run they may well have to continue if they’re going to secure automatic qualification for next summer’s showpiece.