Aleksandar Mitrovic’s last-minute winner snatched automatic World Cup qualification for Serbia at Portugal’s expense in Lisbon on Sunday night.
It was a must-win match for the Serbs, who came into the clash level on points but with an inferior goal difference to their hosts, who just needed to avoid defeat to secure their place at next year’s showpiece in Qatar.
It was Serbia who drew first blood – by shooting themselves straight in the foot. Just two minutes in, Nemanja Gudelj was robbed of possession on the edge of his own penalty area by the wily Bernardo Silva. The loose ball rolled into the path of Renato Sanches, who just about kept his composure to blast home before VAR gave the all-clear after a check for a foul.
Serbia came within the width of the woodwork of equalising ten minutes later as Dusan Vlahovic thumped the foot of the post, before Cristiano Ronaldo twice went close at the other end.
Another crucial error gifted the visitors a leveller just after the half-hour mark. Dusan Tadic’s deflected shot looked as though it would be easy enough to stop for Rui Patricio, but he horribly misjudged his save as the ball hit him and span agonisingly over the line.
Portugal almost reestablished their lead shortly before half-time, but Danilo Pereira’s deflected header dropped just over the bar.
It seemed as though the Seleçao had seen out a cagey second half of few chances to secure the point they needed, but in the last minute of normal time, Tadic picked out Mitrovic with a deep cross and the striker didn’t even need to jump as he nodded the ball into the back of the net unopposed. Absolutely incredible.
SERBIA qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Portugal are cosigned to the lottery of the play-offs.
Here’s how the Portugal players rated…
PORTUGAL PLAYER RATINGS
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Rui Patricio (GK) – 5/10 – Had little to do before horribly misjudging a deflected shot from Tadic, which he couldn’t stop from sliding over the line. Could do nothing about the winner.
Joao Cancelo (RB) – 6/10 – Booked for a very heavy early challenge. Could easily have been dismissed for a second foul just after the equaliser. Not able to get forward like he does at club level.
Jose Fonte (CB) – 6/10 – Yes, he still starts for Portugal. Rolled back the years with some fine passing through the lines. Takes some responsibility for the horrible defending for Serbia’s winner.
Ruben Dias (CB) – 6/10 – Watched Vlahovic very closely but struggled to deal with him at times. Same as Fonte for the last-ditch goal – horrible organisation.
Nuno Mendes (LB) – 6/10 – Often the out ball down the left and was composed. Lucky not to be booked for a late challenge, and occasionally engaged in physical battles he couldn’t win. Crucial intervention late on.
Danilo Pereira (DM) – 7/10 – No frills but kept things ticking over. Went close with a deflected header. Subbed as Portugal scrambled for an equaliser.
Renato Sanches (CM) – 8/10 – Didn’t look composed, but kept his head to smash in after just two minutes. A little too loose in possession on occasion. Grew in influence again after half-time, looking a real threat. Booked.
Joao Moutinho (CM) – 6/10 – Game passed him by somewhat in the first half. Booked after the break for a cynical trip. Subbed.
Bernardo Silva (RW) – 8/10 – Brilliant work to pinch the ball from Gudelj and assist the goal. Displayed some dazzling dribbling ability at times as he oozed confidence. Subbed as Portugal looked to see out the game – probably a decision the coach regrets.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST) – 6/10 – Stung the keeper’s fingertips before putting a free kick over the bar. Dropped deep looking to get involved but couldn’t really influence proceedings. Not his night.
Diogo Jota (LW) – 6/10 – Buzzed about and looked a constant threat, although not much fell his way. Perhaps didn’t look after the ball well enough. Subbed.
Joao Palhinha (CM) – 6/10 – Mucked in on the defensive side and carried the ball forward ably. One of many who were not switched on for the late, late goal.
Bruno Fernandes (AM) – 6/10 – Doesn’t look the same player for Portugal. Couldn’t influence the result.
Joao Felix (LW) – N/A
Ruben Neves (CM) – N/A
Andre Silva (ST) – N/A