Portugal vs. Azerbaijan: Do the Hosts Have the World's Best Forward Line?

By Martin Green24 March 2021
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Portugal vs. Azerbaijan: Do the Hosts Have the World's Best Forward Line?

Portugal’s vast array of attacking riches will be on display when they host Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier this evening.

Cristiano Ronaldo is always the star attraction, but the sheer depth of world-class forwards available to Fernando Santos is pretty outrageous. Joao Felix is the world’s fourth most expensive footballer, and he is tearing it up for La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Bruno Fernandes has established himself as arguably the most dangerous attacking midfielder in the Premier League since signing for Man Utd. Diogo Jota has been the star of the show for Liverpool this season. Bernardo Silva has long been one of the finest players in Man City’s stellar team.

André Silva has banged in 21 goals in 24 games for an unheralded Eintracht Frankfurt side this season. The list just goes on and on.

The Contenders

Is there a better collection of forwards in world football right now? France boast Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, but the supporting cast is not as strong.

England have Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, but they may not quite be at the same level as Ronaldo and co. Spain and Italy are more impressive in defence and midfield than in attack. Belgium have Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens, but Eden Hazard is often out injured, and they lack strength in depth.

Perhaps the only teams that can match Portugal are Argentina and Brazil. Argentina can call upon Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Lucas Ocampos and Papu Gonez, while Brazil have Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, but Portugal could be the most formidable attacking unit in Europe.

Azerbaijan's Struggles

That should stand them in good stead against Azerbaijan. Portugal are currently fifth in the world rankings, 103 places above tonight’s opponents. They are the reigning European champions and Nations League holders. They have recently beaten the likes of Croatia and Sweden, and they really should make short work of Azerbaijan.

Gianni Di Biasi’s side picked up just one win in a Nations League group featuring Montenegro, Luxembourg and Cyprus. They also finished rock bottom of their qualification group for the upcoming Euros, taking zero wins, one draw and seven defeats from games against Croatia, Wales, Slovakia and Hungary.

They conceded 18 goals in those eight matches, so it is hard to see them containing the attacking quality that Portugal boast.

Handicap Lines Offer Value

It is therefore easy to see why Portugal are such heavy favourites for this match, priced at just 1/33 (1.03) with Bet365. However, Unibet has 22/25 (1.92) on Portugal -3.25 Asian handicap, which might appeal.

You often have to give teams pretty enormous handicaps to find any value when betting on mismatches in international football. Yet competition for places is fierce in the Portugal starting 11 right now, so they could blow Azerbaijan away.

Santos is expected to start with Ronaldo down the middle, flanked by Felix and Jota, with Fernandes playing behind them. Yet that would leave André Silva and Bernardo Silva on the bench, so the players on the pitch would know they must excel in order to keep their places, while any substitutes will be desperate to impress if given a chance in the second half.

Portugal’s recent big wins include a 4-1 triumph against Croatia, 6-0 and 5-1 against Lithuania, 3-0 against Luxembourg and 3-0 against Sweden. They are solid at the back and technically gifted in midfield, so they should control this game, and it is easy to imagine them winning by a margin of at least three goals.