Portugal save face
Last Updated: 11/09/12 11:13pm
Silvestre Varela: Scored as a substitute for Portugal
Substitute Silvestre Varela needed just 82 seconds to fire Portugal on the way to a face-saving World Cup qualifier win over Azerbaijan.
The Porto frontman's 63rd-minute finish, which came almost immediately after he had replaced Miguel Veloso, finally gave the Portuguese the lead in a tense Group F encounter which was not settled until Helder Postiga and Bruno Alves struck inside the final five minutes.
But on a night when luck deserted Paulo Bento's men for long periods, the home side had earlier hit the woodwork on no fewer than four occasions, while Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo also saw a series of chances go begging in Braga.
Victory left Portugal locked together with leaders Russia on six points at the top of the group following a resounding 4-0 win in Israel for Fabio Capello's side.
Alves might have fired Portugal ahead within five minutes, but saw his shot from Raul Meireles' corner blocked by Mahir Shukurov, and Azerbaijan keeper Kamran Agayev had to tip Meireles' shot around the post six minutes later.
Postiga rattled the crossbar with an 18th-minute drive and Joao Moutinho repeated the feat five minutes later as Agayev's goal led a charmed life.
The keeper kept the visitors in it with a saves from Moutinho and Veloso, but needed the help of a post to deny Postiga on the stroke of half-time.
Ronaldo was denied by an upright six minutes after the restart and then saw Agayev punch away a 30-yard piledriver with the keeper proving more stubborn than the men in front of him.
The former Manchester United man missed the target from inside the penalty area with 58 minutes played and then saw a 79th-minute overhead kick turned around the post.
Varela eventually opened the scoring with a right-foot finish from 12 yards barely a minute after being called from the bench, and although Agayev kept Nani, Ronaldo and Joao Pereira at bay, the respite was temporary.
Postiga converted Ronaldo's 85th-minute flick-on to ease the nerves and then Alves headed home Moutinho's corner three minutes later as Portugal eased across the finishing line.
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying
Tue 11th Sep - Group E
Cyprus1 - 0Iceland
Norway2 - 1Slovenia
Switzerland2 - 0Albania
Tue 11th Sep - Group F
Israel0 - 4Russia
N Ireland1 - 1Luxembourg
Portugal3 - 0Azerbaijan
Tue 11th Sep - Group I
Georgia0 - 1Spain
France3 - 1Belarus
Tue 11th Sep - Group D
Romania4 - 0Andorra
Turkey3 - 0Estonia
Hungary1 - 4Holland
Tue 11th Sep - Group B
Bulgaria1 - 0Armenia
Italy2 - 0Malta
Tue 11th Sep - Group G
Bos & Herz4 - 1Latvia
Slovakia2 - 0Liechtenstein
Greece2 - 0Lithuania
Tue 11th Sep - Group A
Serbia6 - 1Wales
Belgium1 - 1Croatia
Scotland1 - 1Macedonia
Tue 11th Sep - Group H
San Marino0 - 6Montenegro
Poland2 - 0Moldova
England1 - 1Ukraine
Tue 11th Sep - Group C
Sweden2 - 0Kazakhstan
Austria1 - 2Germany
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group A
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group B
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||10||14|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group D
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group E
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group F
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group G
|1||Bosnia and Herzegovina||10||25|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group H
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group I