Portugal made it seven consecutive wins in competitive fixtures under Fernando Santos as they overcame nine-man Serbia 2-1 in their final Euro 2016 qualifier in Belgrade.
The Iberian side recovered from defeat in their opening Group I fixture against Albania – when Paulo Bento was at the helm – to book their place in France with a 1-0 win over Denmark on October 8, so Santos took the chance to rest key players for their trip to Serbia.
The most notable absentee was captain Cristiano Ronaldo, but Nani – wearing the armband in the Real Madrid forward’s stead – stepped up with the opening goal inside five minutes.
Radovan Curcic’s men – only playing for pride after a turbulent campaign that included a three-point deduction following crowd trouble in their clash with Albania – took time to recover from the early strike, but finally equalised after 65 minutes through Zoran Tosic.
However, the hosts were made to rue their missed chances as Joao Moutinho curled home from 20 yards 12 minutes from time, keeping Santos’ 100 per cent record in qualifying intact.
Things got even worse for Serbia late on, as Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic were dismissed, ending their campaign with the same ill-discipline with which it started.
Serbia immediately went on the attack inside a buoyant Stadion Partizana, earning a corner inside the opening minute. Adem Ljajic’s delivery only needed the slightest of touches from Dusko Tosic to divert it into the back of the net, but the defender could not oblige.
That initial promise soon evaporated, though, as Portugal took the lead with five minutes played.
Danny tore through the Serbia defence before pulling a save from Vladimir Stojkovic with a stabbed effort from the top of the box, but Nani was on hand to convert on the follow-up.
Fernando Santos’ men quickly became more reserved in attack, instead focusing on maintaining a solid defence and forcing the hosts out into the wide areas.
As a result, it took Serbia a while to forge meaningful openings.
Ljajic called the Portuguese into action in the 38th minute shortly after a tame effort from Zoran Tosic, but his shot from an acute angle was batted away at the near post following a neat one-two with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The Inter man continued to be the hosts’ greatest threat after the interval, dragging a strike wide of the target following a cutback from Kolarov in the 53rd minute.
Matic and Zoran Tosic both went close before Portugal’s resistance was finally broken just past the hour, with the latter firing home from 12 yards following Kolarov’s low delivery to the penalty spot.
Portugal were not to be denied a seventh straight win in Group I, though, as Moutinho, picked out by a clever cutback from Eliseu, bent an exquisite shot into the top-right corner in the 78th minute.
The goal caused Serbia to lose their cool, with Kolarov shown two bookings in the space of a minute – the second of which came after being substituted – before Matic was also dismissed for an elbow on Andre Andre.
Portugal were joined in the automatic qualification spots by Albania after they beat Armenia 3-0, leaving Denmark to contest the play-offs.
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