Knowing that they were handed a golden chance to book their spot at this year’s World Cup finals, Portugal didn’t pass up on that opportunity as they secured a routine 2-0 win against North Macedonia.
Putting in a professional display on Tuesday night, the pressure was firmly on Fernando Santos’ shoulders after watching Macedonia stunningly come past reigning European champions Italy last week.
Spearheaded by Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes who bagged both goals on either side of the half-time break, the Navigators really couldn’t have wished for a better night at the Estádio do Dragão.
Enjoying what has been an impressive week in Porto, we have taken a look at the main talking points.
Portugal eventually book their ticket
Suffering a dramatic 2-1 defeat at home against Serbia back in November, a result that cost them top spot in Group A, there is no doubt that Portugal would have been putting their plans together for an eventual showdown against Italy.
However, while the Navigators might have gone about things the long way, Tuesday’s 2-0 victory at the Estádio do Dragão means that Fernando Santos’ side secured their sixth consecutive ticket to a World Cup finals.
Impressing as they secured a 3-1 victory against Turkey in their semi-final meeting last week, it was also no secret that another qualifying upset here would have likely seen the end of Santos’ tenure.
Clearly implying during the build-up to Tuesday’s meeting that he could not see a future past any kind of defeat here, the 67-year-old cut a relieved figure at the final whistle amidst a party atmosphere in Porto.
Handing five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to play at a fifth World Cup finals, the former European champions will be glad to get their plans for Qatar underway.
Fernandes shows his worth
Struggling to find top gear with much stability this season in a Manchester United side who have once again flattered to deceive, Bruno Fernandes certainly underlined his worth with a stellar display on Tuesday night.
Coming under real scrutiny from sections of the Old Trafford faithful over recent times, the former Sporting Lisbon ace bagged a pair of stunning strikes on either side of the half-time interval.
Producing a wonderful first-time finish across a helpless Stole Dimitrievski to all but book Portugal’s spot out in Qatar, the 27-year-old will be desperate to keep up this momentum when he returns to Manchester.
Looking to spearhead United’s charge for a much-needed top-four finish, it has also been widely reported that the 44-cap international is going to sign a bumper new deal at Old Trafford immediately.
While he might have only bagged a trio of strikes in his last 17 appearances across all competitions for the Premier League giants, transfer guru Fabrizio Romano announced following Tuesday’s 2-0 win that Fernandes will fly immediately back to sign a new five-year contract.
A miracle too far for the Macedonians
While North Macedonia might have eventually seen their remarkable run come to an end at the Estádio do Dragão on Tuesday night, there is no doubt that they cemented their spot as one of the real qualifying stories.
Managing to book their trip out to Portugal thanks to what will long be remembered as a famous night on foreign soil, they should still be riding a real wave following their heroics against Italy last week.
Sending shockwaves across the footballing world, Head Coach Blagoja Milevski saw his side snatch a last-gasp 1-0 win away at the defending European champions, arguably the biggest upset in World Cup qualifying history.
Although the Macedonians might have been glad to have welcomed back the midfield duo of Arijan Ademi and Enis Bardhi here, they really failed to gain any kind of foothold in proceedings.
Almost handing Fernandes and Portugal a crucial lead just after the half-hour mark, even the most stringent of North Macedonia fans would have known that another miracle looked incredibly unlikely.
Portugal: Meireles Costa, Cancelo, Pepe, Danilo, Tavares Mendes, Bernardo Silva, João Moutinho, Bruno Fernandes, Otávio, Jota, Ronaldo
Subs: Nunes, Vitinha, Sequeira, William Carvalho, Leao
North Macedonia: Dimitrievski, Ristovski, Velkovski, Musliu, Alioski, Ademi, Bardhi, Trajkovski, Elmas, Kostadinov, Ristovski
Subs: Askovski, Nikolov, Churlinov, Miovski
Goals: Bruno Fernandes 32′, 65′
Yellow Cards: Portugal: Cancelo – North Macedonia: Musliu, Alioski
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Anthony Taylor
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