AFP
Wire Service
2 minute read
15 Nov 2021
7:32 am

Serbia, Spain qualify for 2022 World Cup, Portugal stunned

AFP

Spain and Croatia secured their places in Qatar on Sunday.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts at the end of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification group A football match against Serbia, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, on Sunday. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of playing in a record-equalling fifth World Cup hang in the balance after Serbia stunned Portugal 2-1 in Lisbon to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

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Spain and Croatia did secure their places in Qatar on Sunday thanks to 1-0 wins over Sweden and Russia respectively.

Ronaldo already holds the record of playing in five European Championships and looked well on course for another milestone as Portugal stormed out of the blocks to open the scoring after just two minutes through Renato Sanches.

However, Serbia bounced back to dominate the remainder of the first half and deservedly levelled when Dusan Tadic’s strike squeezed in off the post after Dusan Vlahovic had hit the woodwork.

Ronaldo was kept quiet as another chance to score his 800th career goal came and went.

Instead it was Aleksandar Mitrovic who grabbed the vital goal as stoppage time approached.

Just over a year ago, Mitrovic was the villain for his country as he was the only player to fail to score in a penalty shootout against Scotland that saw Serbia miss out on Euro 2020.

However, the Fulham striker made amends in dramatic fashion when he steered in Tadic’s header at the back post.

“It was an amazing game,” said Mitrovic. “We were the better team today in every aspect of the game.”

Portugal must now navigate two tricky one-off playoff matches in March to maintain their record of qualifying for every major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

– ‘Huge weight off’ –

“We must apologise to the Portuguese but my team will be at the World Cup, that’s guaranteed,” said defiant Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

“We will have to prepare well to beat our opponents in March and to get to Qatar. But I always trust my players.” 

Spain made sure they avoided the playoffs as Alvaro Morata’s goal four minutes from time ended Sweden’s resistance in Seville.

The Swedes’ shock 2-0 defeat to Kazakhstan on Thursday had handed Spain pole position in Group B, meaning La Roja just needed a point to qualify.

Luis Enrique’s men were grateful for that reprieve as for a long time a repeat of the stalemate between the sides when they met in the group stages of Euro 2020 was on the cards.

Morata was the fall guy that night for missing a host of chances, but made his mark off the bench with a calm finish after Robin Olsen had turned Dani Olmo’s blistering shot onto the bar.

“To be honest, it is a huge weight off my shoulders,” said Luis Enrique. “I felt much more pressure in these games when people think it is easy to get a result than in the Euro or the Nations League.”