Two goals from striker Dusan Vlahovic helped Serbia win 3-1 at home against Azerbaijan in their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday and left the Balkan nation at the top of Group A, a point ahead of Portugal.
Serbia have 17 points in seven games while Portugal, who beat Luxembourg 5-0 at home thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, have 16 out of six ahead of their visit to Ireland on November 11. Team race for first place in the group and an automatic place in next year’s tournament in Qatar for an exciting climax in the final round of matches on November 14, when Portugal are at home against Serbia.
Serbia missed several chances before Vlahovic, scorer of a sublime winning goal in Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Luxembourg, got a 30th-minute penalty after being pushed into the box by defender Hojatollah Haghverdi . Azerbaijan unexpectedly equalized with the last kick of the first half after home goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic lost the ball trying to dribble past two opponents, giving Emin Makhmudov a simple finish in an empty net .
Vlahovic restored the lead to Serbia with a predatory goal in the 53rd minute when he stabbed in a close rebound after visiting goalkeeper Shakhruddin Magomedaliyev was unable to ward off a deflected shot from Darko Lazovic. Marauder Vlahovic, who also shaved the post in the first half, came close to scoring a hat-trick three times and his efforts included a spectacular over-the-head kick before Dusan Tadic sealed Serbia’s victory with a penalty in the 83rd minute.
Tadic, who came off the bench as coach Dragan Stojkovic feared his captain would receive a yellow card that would have ruled him out of the clash against Portugal, pierced his shot into the skylight after Maksim Medvedev manipulated the area. Vlahovic rejected suggestions that Serbia would be the outsider when it came up against Portugal.
“I don’t see why they should be featured as favorites,” he told reporters. “The only thing we can do is put it all aside and play our best game. To qualify automatically would be a fantastic achievement.” (Written by Zoran Milosavljevic; edited by Toby Davis)
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