Portugal vs. Luxembourg: Final score 3-0; Portugal win but end up in the playoffs anyway

Shaun Botterill

No surprises here: Portugal cruised past Luxembourg, but were unable to knock Russia off the top spot in Group F.

Let's be honest: This game didn't matter. In order for Portugal to clinch an automatic place in the World Cup next summer, they needed to beat Luxembourg, have Azerbaijan beat Russia and somehow make up a seven-goal difference on the current Group F leaders. That wasn't going to happen, and since second point was already secure, nobody had a whole lot to play for.

Luxembourg midfielder Aurelien Joachim decided that he couldn't be bothered continuing in the charade at around the half-hour mark, up until which the hosts had found it rather difficult to penetrate the massed red ranks surrounding Jonathan Joubert's goal. Joachim expressed his displeasure through the medium of Andre Almeida's shinpad, artfully (and forcefully) driving his studs into the leg of the Portugal defender. It was a tackle that deserved red, and got red.

If the visitors were going to have trouble holding out 11-on-11, they didn't have a hope of keeping it even down a man. And before long, Portugal had their opener, with Monaco man Joao Moutinho sliding an inch-perfect through ball to Silvestre Varela, who skipped past Tom Laterza and slotted in past a stranded Joubert. The second goal didn't take long to arrive, and it was just as pretty, with Moutinho producing a sublime backheel into the path of Nani, who duly scooped the ball into the top corner to make it 2-0 and officially kill off the match.

With the already limited spectacle now utterly devoid of any sporting value, Portugal spent most of the next half coming up with inventive ways not to score. Nani hit the crossbar with a header. Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida conducted a vigorous study of the offside rule. Nobody could be bothered with attacking crosses. Joubert did some neat saves.

That barren spell came to an end when a cross was deflected into Postiga's path, the striker slotting home from close range to make it 3-0. And that was the end of that*. Despite the win, Portugal finish a point behind Russia in Group F, and will now have to navigate the playoffs in order to spend next summer in Brazil. It's difficult to imagine any of their potential opposition relishing that draw.

*Shortly after the Postiga strike, Almeida got back into the spirit of things with a hilarious miss. Thanks, Hugo!

Portugal starting lineup (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Fabio Coentrao, Ricardo Costa, Neto, Andre Almeida; Josue, Miguel Veloso (Hugo Almeida 58'), Joao Moutinho; Silvestre Varela, Helder Postiga, Nani.

Goals: Varela 30', Nani 58', Postiga 78'.

Luxembourg starting lineup (4-5-1): Jonathan Joubert; Mathias Janisch, Chris Philipps, Mario Mutsch, Laurent Jans; Lars Christian Krogh Gerson, Ben Payal (Rene Peters 61'), Stefano Bensi (Antonio Luisi 46'), Aurelien Joachim, Tom Laterza; Daniel Da Mota.

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