Knowing that they needed a real fairytale if they were to book their spot at next year’s World Cup finals, Serbia got just that as they managed to snatch a last-gasp winner in Lisbon on Sunday night.
Making the trip out to Portugal needing maximum points if they were to pinch top spot in Group A, the Eagles battled back from an early Renato Sanches strike as they secured a famous 2-1 win at the Estádio da Luz.
Pulling off what many in Serbia will regard as one of their most iconic nights, we have taken a look at the major talking points as the Оrlovi stunned Cristiano Ronaldo and co in their own backyard.
A Serbian fairytale
While Serbia’s only minor qualifying blips this year had been against Portugal and Ireland, many from across Europe were in agreement that the Eagles would be needing a minor miracle on Sunday night.
However, while Dragan Stojković’s side might have been left furious that Sanches’ controversial opener was allowed to stand with just a couple of minutes on the clock, the Reds only underlined why they have gained plenty of plaudits over the past 12 months.
Making the decision to appoint Stojković back in March, Serbia have certainly hit the ground running and showed no signs of feeling sorry for themselves after falling 1-0 behind.
More than aware that only victory in Lisbon would be enough to book their spot at next year’s World Cup finals, Sunday’s guests were handed a welcomed break when Dusan Tadic’s effort somehow found a way past Rui Patrício.
Picking up some perfect momentum earlier in the week as they landed a 4-0 romp against Qatar in a friendly contest, Stojković’s side were a constant threat and never gave Portugal a moment’s rest.
Producing a stroke of genius to bring their match-winner off the bench at half-time, there is no doubt that Sunday’s victory will stand as one of the greatest moments in Serbia’s history.
Redemption for Mitrovic
With Stojković making the decision to start Fiorentina ace Dušan Vlahović up top by himself, that call certainly raised plenty of eyebrows in both dugouts prior to kick-off.
However, while Vlahović’s first-half effort might have rebounded back off Portugal’s post, Serbian fans would have undoubtedly been excited by the sight of Alexander Mitrovic coming out for the second-half.
Once again playing a vital role throughout the whole of Serbia’s qualifying adventure, the 27-year-old managed to produce a moment that would have secured his place in the Eagles’ folk law.
Making the trip out to Lisbon already with seven Group A goals in as many appearances, the Fulham striker found himself free at the back post after Tadic’s deep cross in the 90th minute.
Already racking up 20 Championship goals with the Cottagers this season, few would have expected Mitrovic to pass up on the opportunity as he powered past a diving Patrício.
Almost exactly a year on from his penalty miss that handed Scotland a spot at the Summers’ European Championships, that was certainly the moment that Mitrovic redeemed himself to Serbian fans across the globe.
Portugal throw it all away
While all of the headlines will be stollen by Serbia’s stunning last-gasp winner, there is no doubt that there will be major questions about what was a complete collapse from Portugal on Sunday night.
Opening their final meeting in Lisbon with their destiny still firmly in their own hands, the former European champions really failed to build on the momentum handed to them from Sanches’ early opener.
Putting in a toothless display earlier in the week as they could only muster a single point against Ireland on the road, Fernando Santos’ side have really failed to deal with the pressure on their shoulders.
Knowing that just a single point in Lisbon would have been enough to book their ticket to next year’s World Cup finals, Portugal failed to create any real opportunities, despite having an attack that was spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Met by a chorus of boos following Mitrovic’s late winner, their chances of heading to Qatar now rest on two rounds of play-offs in March.
However, after watching both Sanches and Manchester City’s João Cancelo pick up costly bookings on Sunday, both will be forced to serve a suspension when the play-offs come around.
Portugal: Rui Patrício, Cancelo, Fonte, Dias, Mendes, Moutinho, Danilo, Sanches, Silva, Ronaldo, Jota
Subs: Neves, André Silva, Alves Palhinha Gonçalves, Fernandes
Serbia: Rajkovic, Milenkovic, Veljkovic, Pavlovic, Kostic, Milinkovic-Savic, Gudelj, Lukic, Zivkovic, Tadic, Vlahovic
Subs: Mitrovic, Jovic, Radonjic, Spajic
Goals: Portugal: Sanches 2′ – Serbia: Tadic 33′, Mitrovic 90′
Yellow Cards: Portugal: Moutinho, Sanches, Cancelo – Serbia: Milenkovic, Gudelj, Mitrovic, Pavlovic
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Daniele Orsato
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