A Bruno Fernandes double gave Portugal a 2-0 win over North Macedonia to send them to the Qatar World Cup.
North Macedonia were hoping to build on their shock upset win over Italy last week, while Portugal found themselves one game away from the Qatar World Cup after beating Turkey in their first playoff tie.
Cristiano Ronaldo was named in the starting line-up and it was his excellent link-up play with Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes which allowed the playmaker to whip the ball past Stole Dimitrievski midway through the first half, and Diogo Jota came close to making it two.
In the second half, Fernandes had a chance to double his tally and his side’s lead but sent in a weak shot, but was instrumental to a counterattack that he finished on 65 minutes to make it two.
Tempers briefly threatened to boil over when a spat between Jota and Ezgjan Alioski kickstarted a few minutes of petulance from both sets of players, but Macedonia did not have time to waste if they wanted to chase the game.
With the game slowing down as the visitors became aware they were beaten, the home crowd were able to celebrate their country’s success and turn their attention to Qatar.
TALKING POINT – PORTUGAL HAD TOO MUCH EXPERIENCE
Pepe at the back, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Moutinho, and Bernardo Silva in midfield, and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. They are not short of talent or youth elsewhere on the pitch but their spine has been through almost everything.
Portugal let themselves down a little to have to endure the playoff process but in Turkey and then North Macedonia they beat two difficult teams and did so with relatively little trouble.
They are not dark horses in the World Cup – nobody expects them to win it, even as a long shot, but they are going to cause plenty of more established teams problems if they can put a decent run together in October.
MAN OF THE MATCH – BRUNO FERNANDES (PORTUGAL)
The Manchester United man often fades out of games, and sometimes weeks, but he reliably contributes with assists and goals. He demonstrated an understanding of his teammate Ronaldo with the opener, but also was alive to intercept the pass to start the move. For the second he showed his determination to launch and round off a counterattack in a way that went unmatched by others.
Portugal: Diogo Costa 6; Cancelo 6, Danilo, Pepe 8, Nuno Mendes 6; Bruno Fernandes 8, Moutinho 6, Otavio 6; Ronaldo 6, Jota 7, Bernardo 6. Subs: Leao 6, Carvalho 6, Matheus 6, Felix 6, Vitinha 6.
North Macedonia: Dimitrievski 6; Stefan Ristovski 6, Musliu 6, Velkovski 6, Alioski 6; Elmas 6, Bardi 7, Ademi 6, Trajkovski 6; Milan Ristovski 6, Kostadinov 6. Subs: Miovski 6, Churlinov 6, Askovski 6, Nikolov 6.
24’ – JOTA HEADER – The Liverpool man meets a corner near to the penalty spot and he glances his header down, and it goes just over the bar with the ‘keeper stranded.
32’ – GOAL! PORTUGAL 1-0 NORTH MACEDONIA – FERNANDES SCORES – Fernades cuts out a square Ristovski pass fired in from the wing by the opposition. However the ball is worked back to Ronaldo, who kills the ball artfully into the path of Fernandes, and he whips his shot past the ‘keeper!
40’ – JOTA MISS – Ronaldo peels off after running in from the left, mis-hits his pullback and in comes Jota to bundle the ball against a defender and then fire in a shot with an empty goal open from a tight angle, but it hits the side netting.
49’ – FERNANDES CHANCE – The goalscorer sends in a low shot at goal that is easy for Dimitrievski.
65’ – GOAL! PORTUGAL 2-0 NORTH MACEDONIA – FERNANDES SCORES – That’s two. Pepe breaks up an attack from North Macedonia and releases the ball to Fernandes, plays it forward and races into the box to reach a ball floated into the path from Jota, and he half-volleys home with a calm finish.
79’ – CHANCE! – Fernandes strides up the inside left, squares the ball to Ronaldo at the near post, but a brilliant slide tackle from Velkovski rescues the situation.