Watch Portugal vs Azerbaijan - World Cup Qual. UEFA live streaming

  Watch Portugal vs Azerbaijan - World Cup Qual. UEFA live streaming

Portugal kick off their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign on Wednesday when they do battle with Azerbaijan in Group A at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

Fernando Santos's men will be aiming to progress to the finals for the sixth time running, whereas Azerbaijan are bidding to qualify as an independent nation for the first time in their history.

Portugal and Fernando Santos have conquered Europe twice in the space of five years - marching to Euros and Nations League success in 2016 and 2019 respectively - and the Iberian nation would dearly love to take one giant leap forward and lift the World Cup trophy in Qatar next winter.

Os Navegadores will certainly be seen as genuine contenders for the crown, but their previous World Cup finishes have been underwhelming to say the least, as they failed to progress past the group stage in 2014 before falling to an Edinson Cavani-inspired Uruguay at the last-16 stage four years later.

Furthermore, Portugal begin their qualification campaign only a few months after any hopes of a successful Nations League defence went out the window, as France pipped them to top spot in League A Group 3 after beating them 1-0 on November 14, and not even a thrilling 3-2 win over Croatia three days later could prevent Santos's men from finishing as runners-up in the group.

Of course, Portugal will be expected to sweep aside the competition in UEFA Group A - especially seeing as they won five and lost just one of their eight fixtures in 2020 - but Cristiano Ronaldo and co cannot afford to be complacent as they bid to seal qualification to Qatar with minimal trouble.

Ronaldo in particular will feel quite at home this week, as the reigning European champions will be going head-to-head with Azerbaijan in Turin - with reports in Italy claiming that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was a driving force behind the move to play the game on familiar territory - so this week's visitors to the Allianz Stadium are surely aware of what must be awaiting them on Ronaldo's turf.

Azerbaijan demonstrated their affinity for goalless stalemates in 2020, and head coach Gianni de Biasi would certainly be satisfied with such a result against the reigning European and Nations League champions this week.

Indeed, this week's visitors to Turin played out three consecutive 0-0 draws with Cyprus, Montenegro and Luxembourg in their final Nations League games - ultimately finishing third in League C Group 1 - while another goalless stalemate with Slovenia in a November friendly capped off a rather monotonous year for the former Soviet nation.

Since becoming independent in 1991, Azerbaijan have tried and failed six times to qualify for the World Cup Finals, and given the calibre of opponents they are set to face in UEFA Group A, their impassioned supporters may not be placing bets on a first-ever finals appearance anytime soon.

Furthermore, Milli have only triumphed in seven of their 58 World Cup qualification matches since their first attempt for the 1998 World Cup - with three of those wins coming in their unsuccessful bid to qualify for Russia - and with any prospects of a shock win in Turin very slim indeed, some of their contingent may simply want to enjoy sharing the same pitch as Ronaldo in their midweek showdown.

Portugal have come up trumps in five of their six meetings with Azerbaijan down the years - the outlier being a 1-1 draw in qualification for Euro 2000 - and the Iberian nation have also kept clean sheets in all five of those wins, with the last fixture between the two sides ending 2-0 to the European champions back in 2013.

Unsurprisingly, Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Rui Patricio - Portugal's ninth most-capped player - will not be joining up with the team after the horrific head injury he sustained against Liverpool earlier this month.

Anthony Lopes should therefore be given the nod in goal, but there ought to be some Premier League representation in the backline with Manchester City duo Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias in line for starts.

Pepe, William Carvalho, Trincao and Nelson Semedo are all notable absentees for Santos's side, and Ronaldo is set to lead the line despite pressure from prolific Eintracht Frankfurt forward Andre Silva.

Azerbaijan captain Maksim Medvedev was late to arrive at his team's training camp due to personal reasons, but the Qarabag right-back has now joined up with the squad and will be ready to lead his side out onto the Turin turf on Wednesday.

Medvedev scored the winner in his side's only triumph of 2020 - a 1-0 victory against Cyprus - and at 31 years of age, he is the oldest player in De Biasi's setup for the qualifiers.

Uncapped forward Anatoliy Nuriyev is the sole player in the team who does not ply his trade in Azerbaijan, with the 24-year-old currently on the books at Ukrainian Premier League outfit Mynai.

Portugal possible starting lineup:

Lopes; Cancelo, Dias, Fonte, Guerreiro; Pereira, Moutinho, Fernandes; Jota, Ronaldo, Felix

Azerbaijan possible starting lineup:

Balayev; Medvedev, Huseynov, Badalov, Kryvotsiuk; Sadikhov, Qarayev, Diniyev, Mutallimov; Sheydayev, Emreli

We say: Portugal 3-0 Azerbaijan

Portugal and Azerbaijan both demonstrated their admirable defensive qualities throughout 2020, although Ronaldo and co are sure to break the visitors' resilience here. De Biasi will be praying for a memorable return to his homeland, but it is impossible to back anything other than a comfortable win for Portugal to kick off their qualification campaign in perfect fashion.

Portugal vs Azerbaijan 


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