Red-hot Cristiano Ronaldo fires Portugal past Latvia

  • IANS

    SNS Web | New Delhi

    June 10, 2017 | 4:47 am

Portugal's star-forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal (Photo: AFP)

Picking up where he left off with Real Madrid, Ronaldo got a brace and an assist for his country.

Portugal kept their World Cup qualifying on track with a fairly easy 3-0 win over minnows Latvia in their Group B game on Friday night, with star-man Cristiano Ronaldo running the show as he so often does. 

The 2016 European Champions trotted out in a 4-3-3 formation with Ronaldo being given company by young forwards Andre Silva and Gelson Martins up top. Andre Gomes, William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho started in midfield, but there was no place for Manchester City new-signing Bernardo Silva in Fernando Santos’ starting XI. 

Coming off the back of a sensational season with club Real Madrid, Ronaldo was the focal point of all of Portugal’s attacks, but Latvian goalkeeper Andris Vannis was keeping those long-distance howitzers at bay without much fuss. 

Portugal had thrashed Latvia 4-1 in their qualifier in November, but an upset never truly looked on the cards as the Iberian nation were monopolising possession and had all the major chances. 

However, the Lativan defence was resolute, making their home field look narrower than it was by packing their players in and as half-time neared, it looked as if the game would remain scoreless. 

It was left to Ronaldo to give the visitors the vital breakthrough, four minutes before the interval. Andre Gomes sent in a cross from the left for centre-back Jose Fonte, but as the defenders thumping header hit the bar, Ronaldo was on hand to score a diving header. 

That goal allowed Portugal to play with more freedom in the second as they looked to put a couple past their opponents, but it was not until Ricardo Quaresma’s introduction two minutes before the hour-mark that they really got going.

The mercurial winger’s cross from the right took a slight deflection, but fortunately for Portugal, it fell kindly for Ronaldo. The 32-year-old headed in from close range in the 63rd minute and four minutes later, unselfishly teed up Andre Silva for Portugal’s third. He could have taken a shot on, but somewhat surprisingly, chose to pass it for his teammate and while Latvia had some bright moments in the game, they never truly came close to troubling Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal.

The visitors controlled the tempo of the game thereon, to notch their fifth win from six games in qualifying. 

Switzerland beat the Faroe Islands 2-0 in the other Group B game on the night, thanks to goals from Premier League duo Granit Xhaka and Xherdhan Shaqiri to remain on top of the table with 18 points from six games. Portugal remain in second place with 15 points from six games, with third-placed Hungary far behind on seven points.

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