Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of playing in a record-equalling fifth World Cup were put in limbo when Serbia defeated Portugal 2-1 in Lisbon to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Spain and Croatia sealed their places in Qatar on Sunday with 1-0 wins over Sweden and Russia respectively. Ronaldo already has a record of playing in five European Championships and was looking good at another milestone as Portugal came off the block to open the scoring after just two minutes through Renato Sanch.
However, Serbia bounced back to dominate the remainder of the first half and leveled deservedly when Dusan Tadi’s strike squeezed the post after being hit by a woodworker from Duan Vlahovic.
Ronaldo was kept quiet as yet another opportunity to score his 800th career goal came and went.
Instead, it was Aleksandr Mitrovic who secured the crucial target as stoppage time drew near.
A year ago, Mitrovic was the villain for his country as he was the only player to fail to score in the penalty shootout against Scotland, which saw Serbia miss out on Euro 2020.
However, the Fulham striker made a dramatic modification when he stepped into Tadic’s header at the back post.
“It was an amazing game,” Mitrovic said.
“Today we were a better team in every aspect of the game,” he said.
Portugal will now have to navigate two difficult one-off playoff matches in March to maintain their record of qualifying for every major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
– ‘Lose heavy weight’ –
Portugal coach Fernando Santos said, “We must apologize to the Portuguese, but my team will be in the World Cup, it is guaranteed.”
“We have to prepare well to beat our opponents in March and reach Qatar. But I have always believed in my players,” he said.
Spain made sure they avoided the playoffs as Sweden’s resistance in Seville was ended four minutes before Alvaro Morata’s goal.
The Swedes’ 2-0 loss to Kazakhstan on Thursday handed Spain pole position in Group B, meaning La Rosa needed just one point to qualify.
Luis Enrique’s men were grateful for that relief as the prolonged standoff between the two sides recurred when they met in the group stages of Euro 2020.
Morata had fallen to miss several chances that night, but made his mark from the bench with a quiet end after Robin Olsson turned on Danny Olmo’s blistering shot on the bar.
“To be honest, that’s a huge load off my shoulders,” said Luis Enrique.
“I feel a lot of pressure in these games when people think it’s easier to get results than in Euro or the Nations League,” he said.
Croatia also needed a late winner as Fedor Kudryashov snatched qualification from Russia in a battle in swampy conditions in Split.
A finalist in the last World Cup in 2018, Croatia looked playoff bound as they fought hard on a waterlogged pitch against a tenacious Russian defense.
But Kudryashov’s mistake robbed him of the top spot from the audience with a time of eight minutes.
Croatia captain Luka Modric said, “It was a difficult match from the start because of the rain. We never gave up, we were patient and I think we deserved to win. We are the best team in this group.” “
Germany had long booked their spot in Qatar, but finished their qualifying campaign by beating Armenia 4–1 as Ilke Gundogan scored twice.
North Macedonia made it to the playoffs behind four-time world champions with a 3–1 win over Iceland.
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