The Portuguese national football team and their influential captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, have missed out on automatic qualification for the 2022 Qatar World Cup in dramatic circumstances after their opponent, Serbia, scored a late winner to prevail 2-1 and book their place in the competition.
Going into the game, Portugal knew that if they avoided defeat then they would qualify because they only needed a draw to book their flight to Qatar. However, despite taking the lead through Renato Sanches, a goal from Dusan Tadic pulled Serbia level before English club, Fulham, striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic, who came into the game as a substitute, got the winner in the dying moments.
Portugal still has an opportunity to qualify, but it was a hugely frustrating night for Fernando Santos’ side, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to make much of an impact for his team that relied on him for his special magic.
Mitrovic, who started the game on the bench, was sent on at half-time but Portugal was wise to his threat and kept him largely quiet all through the major parts of the second-half.
However, the home side let their concentration slip in the final seconds and Mitrovic pulled away from his marker to meet Tadic’s deep ball and send a downward header into the back of the net.
The goal prompted wild celebrations on the bench and on the pitch from the Serbia players and staff while the Portuguese team stood in disbelief with the home crowd silenced.
The victory made Serbia finish top of Group A with 20 points, three more than Portugal, whose hopes of playing in Qatar next year rest on two rounds of play-offs in March.
The defeat by the Serbians also ended Portugal’s unbroken winning run at home during World Cup qualifiers which had stretched back to October 2013.
It had looked like being a long night for the visitors after they fell behind inside just two minutes when Sanches finished confidently after Bernardo Silva had won possession.
But rather than accept defeat, Serbia did not let their heads drop and deservedly equalised when Rui Patricio failed to keep out Tadic’s shot, which crept over the line.
Cristiano Ronaldo, himself familiar with scoring late goals with Manchester United this season, was quiet and came closest with a free-kick in the first half. Instead, it was Mitrovic who provided the drama in the closing stages as his header secured a famous win for Serbia.