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24 Mar, 2021 23:40

Firing blanks: Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes need own goal from Azerbaijan – ranked 108th in the world – for World Cup win

Firing blanks: Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes need own goal from Azerbaijan – ranked 108th in the world – for World Cup win

Cristiano Ronaldo is toiling to reach Ali Daei's record for the most international goals of all time – failing to score despite playing 90 minutes against a side ranked 103 places below Portugal as his country labored to victory.

Playing at Juventus's stadium in Turin, where Ronaldo has scored many of the goals that have taken him to the top of the goalscoring charts in Italy, Portugal relied on a piece of first-half misfortune from Azerbaijan veteran Maksim Medvedev to sneak past the visiting minnows 1-0 in 2022 World Cup qualifying.

The Portugal captain cut an increasingly frustrated figure against the team ranked 108th in the world, misfiring on several occasions as the side with one win in 18 matches came close to securing one of the most famous results in their history.

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who has been arguably the best player in the English Premier League this season, was unable to inspire any of his teammates to score against the massive underdogs who they once beat 7-0.

As they desperately tried to break down a defense that conceded twice to Luxembourg and Montenegro last year, Portugal were forced to introduce Joao Felix, the 21-year-old Atletico Madrid starlet and subject of the fourth-highest transfer fee of all time.

The 21-year-old cost $155 million when he joined the LaLiga leaders, but was unable to convert that spectacular price tag into a goal against the team that is level with Estonia and slightly behind the Faroe Islands and Mozambique in the standings of football nations.

Ronaldo has now scored just once in his last six international appearances – a single goal in a 7-0 win over Andorra in November – in a sharp decline from his previous run of 16 goals in 11 matches, remaining seven goals short of Iran legend Daei's record of 109 strikes.

"We have the habit of underestimating some selections by their name," Portugal midfielder Joao Palhinha admitted to RTP afterwards.

"I don't think the game was easy. Nowadays there are no easy games. Now we must recover, analyze what we have done and be 200 percent against Serbia [on Saturday]."

Portugal boss Fernando Santos described his sluggish side as being wasteful with passes and showing "little variation."

"Azerbaijan started to believe and found space to go out and play," he conceded. "We allowed three or four approaches on our goal.

"Of course, I expected to win with another performance. Now let's look at what we did and think about Serbia."

Hugely experienced Italian-Albanian manager Gianni De Biasi said he was "disappointed" that his Azerbaijan players had not secured a point or three in their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

"We tried to play our football only in the second half," he said. "Never say never. Football is made of dreams and we can qualify.”

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