Ten-man Portugal were indebted to Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick as they came from a goal down to defeat Armenia 3-2 in their Euro 2016 qualifier in Yerevan on Saturday.
Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo netted the only goal in a scrappy reverse fixture back in November, but was in danger of being upstaged here when Armenia’s Marcos Pizzelli smashed in a sensational free-kick from long range in the first half.
An onlooking Ronaldo may have appreciated the goal – scored using a technique similar to his own – before he equalised with a penalty just before the half-hour.
His second, shortly after half-time, owed much to Armenia’s poor defensive work, but the third was vintage Ronaldo – an effortless piece of control before a thumping finish into the top corner from 25 yards.
Portugal were forced to play the final 28 minutes a man down after Tiago was dismissed for a second booking, but although Hrayr Mkoyan’s close-range effort set up a nervy finish, they were able to hold on to cement their place at the top of Group I.
The game marked the first in charge for Armenia’s interim head coach Sargis Hovsepyan, while Portugal were led by assistant boss Ilidio Vale, with Fernando Santos serving a touchline ban for an offence committed when in charge of Greece at last year’s World Cup.
Portugal had conceded just twice in their four games prior to this, but they were shaky early on and, in the 14th minute, Pizzelli produced a stunning free-kick that Ronaldo himself would have been proud of.
As Pizzelli lined up the ball 40 yards from goal, Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio appeared to be expecting a cross but was caught out by the midfielder, who produced a vicious, dipping strike that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.
Armenia’s advantage lasted only quarter of an hour, however, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s clumsy challenge on Joao Moutinho allowed Ronaldo to send Roman Berezovsky the wrong way from the spot.
Ten minutes after the restart, Ronaldo took advantage of woeful defending to put his side in front.
After Mkoyan allowed the ball to bounce, hesitation between Robert Arzumanyan and Berezkovsky gave Ronaldo the opportunity to nip in and poke the ball beyond the keeper.
Three minutes later, Ronaldo superbly brought down Patricio’s clearance with his left foot, and sent a fizzing drive into the top-right corner from 25 yards with his right.
Tiago was dismissed soon afterwards for picking up his second yellow card, and in the 72nd minute Patricio spilled substitute Aras Ozbiliz’s shot at the feet of Mkoyan, who tapped home.
Although the hosts pressed hard in the closing stages, it was Ronaldo’s third successive hat-trick for club and country that ultimately proved decisive.
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