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Cristiano Ronaldo Fires Portugal Past Andorra in World Cup 2018 Qualifying

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2017

ANDORRA LA VELLA, ANDORRA - OCTOBER 07:  Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Portugal celebrates with his team mate Andre Silva after scoring the opening goal past the goalkeeper Josep Gomes of Andorraduring the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Andorra and Portugal at the Estadi Nacional on October 7, 2017 in Andorra la Vella, Andorra.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo rose from the bench to keep Portugal's hopes of automatic qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup alive on Saturday, netting the opening goal in his country's crucial 2-0 win in Andorra.

Portugal struggled to open up the home side in the first period, as the minnows dug in and defended gamely in front of their supporters.

It meant Ronaldo, who began the match as a substitute, was called on at half-time. He found a breakthrough in the 63rd minute, controlling and finishing superbly inside the area. With the clock ticking down, Andre Silva added some gloss to the scoreline with a second.

The win means Portugal stay three points behind Switzerland, who beat Hungary 5-2 on the night, in the race to top Group B. The two sides meet on Tuesday in Lisbon in the final qualification match, with a Selecao victory ensuring automatic qualification since they would win the tiebreaker on goal difference.

With a number of key players one booking away from a suspension for that potential decider, Portugal boss Fernando Santos made some big selection decisions. 

Santos left Ronaldo on the bench to begin.
Santos left Ronaldo on the bench to begin.PASCAL PAVANI/Getty Images

Ronaldo was one of those at risk and was subsequently named as a substitute; Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte and Andre Gomes were also benched for that reason.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a lack of rhythm in Portugal's play early on. They found passing patterns and penetrative play hard to put together. As noted by journalist Jan Hagen, while the European champions dominated the ball, there was little incision:

Jan Hagen @PortuBall

Portugal have kept 85% of the possession during the opening 18 minutes, but they’ve to create any real trouble for Andorra’s defense.

Andorra did start to show some signs of raggedness at the end of a half in which they'd otherwise been solid. Ricardo Quaresma was at the heart of most of Portugal's good work; he should have scored when free at the back post, but he was only able to plant a header wide.

Andre Silva also should have done more when the ball dropped to him in the penalty area, though he could only fire over. Having ventured forward, Pepe saw a thunderous 20-yard shot stopped by Josep Gomes before the break too.

As stated by journalist Tom Kundert at the interval, despite having less quality than the visitors, the hosts were able to stay compact and frustrate:

Tom Kundert @PortuGoal1

Portugal finding it difficult to make chances vs. well-organised Andorra. Can understand why they've only conceded 3 goals in 4 home games.

With Switzerland on course for victory, Santos didn't waste much time summoning the team's talisman and captain at the break—Ronaldo was on for the start of the second half.

The introduction didn't have the instant impact Santos would have been hoping for, as Andorra continued to defend with assurance. But the benefit of having a player like Ronaldo on the pitch is that one lapse in focus is all that's needed for him to make a difference.

Ronaldo netted the crucial opening goal for Portugal.
Ronaldo netted the crucial opening goal for Portugal.David Ramos/Getty Images

Just after the hour mark, he did, controlling a loose ball on his thigh before prodding home inside the area. As noted by Squawka Football, Ronaldo is enjoying quite the qualifying campaign:

Squawka Football @Squawka

Only two players in history have scored 15 goals in a single European qualifying campaign. Cristiano Ronaldo 🇵🇹 Robert Lewandowski 🇵🇱 https://t.co/ot7qG2XEwb

Per Hagen, there was extra significance to this goal:

Jan Hagen @PortuBall

On the date, 15 years after scoring his first ever professional goal, Cristiano Ronaldo scores his 613th(79th for Portugal) career goal. REI https://t.co/HDGOrM4ZEw

The goal sapped any tension from the Portugal players, and they started to operate with a little more freedom. Openings came with increasing regularity, and Gomes was on hand to claw away a fine effort from Bernardo Silva with 17 minutes remaining.

Andre Silva squandered a brilliant opportunity to make the match safe as the clock ticked down when he failed to capitalise on fine work from Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo. But the AC Milan striker did eventually get his name on the scoresheet four minutes from time to wrap this one up after Ronaldo's deep cross was headed into his path by Danilo Pereira.

It made the game safe for Portugal and ensured Tuesday's showdown with Switzerland in the capital will be a thriller.    

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