Aleksandar Mitrovic sends Portugal into play-offs with late winner for Serbia

Serbia secured an automatic berth in the 2022 World Cup after a 90th-minute header by half-time substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic gave them a 2–1 victory. Portugal in their Group A qualifier in Lisbon.

result picked up Serbia Top placed with 20 points, three more than second-placed Portugal, who needed a draw to finish top spot on goal difference and qualify, but will now reach the play-offs in March.

Mitrovic celebrated on the Serbian bench after defeating Rui Patricio with a down header at the far post in Portugal’s goal after visiting captain Dusan Tadic canceled Renato Sanche’s opening opener.

Jubilant fans gathered in central Belgrade, bringing traffic to a halt in the main Republic Square as they waved Serbian flags and honked their car. Backed by their talismanic captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal produced a slight forward at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz and midfielder Joo Palinha believed the home team was on par. “We have to take responsibility because our game was bad. “We just defended in the second half. Credit to Serbia, they played very well but we had the ability to be on top.

“Everyone in the dressing room is disappointed but we have to look forward to the play-offs now because we are good enough to get into the World Cup. You can’t win all the time. Difficulties are part of life and this feeling should give us more strength.”

The home side made a dream start in the second minute after Bernardo Silva robbed Nemanja Gudelaj of the ball in a dangerous area and fed on Sanchez, who overtook Predrag Rajkovic in Serbia’s goal.

Unfazed by falling behind, the visitors drew closer when Dusan Vlahovic, who preferred Mitrovic as the only striker in Serbia’s starting lineup, hit the post, before Patricio gifted Serbia the equalizer. A seemingly innocuous raid ended with Tadic taking a distracting shot that slammed through Patricio’s fingers and over the line.

Poor goalkeeping gave Portugal a great chance to regain the lead at the stroke of half-time as Rajkovic bowled the ball, but Joao Moutinho’s shot was blocked over the line by Nikola Milenkovic.

Serbia’s coach, Dragan Stojkovic, threw Mitrovic for Gudelj and deploying an extra forward for a defensive midfielder paid off his gamble as a Fulham striker, his country’s all-timer with 44 goals in 69 appearances. was the top scorer. It looked like Portugal would stop after Mitrovic was inches wide in the 85th minute, but the striker had the last laugh as he pulled away from his markers at death to head home after Tadic’s cross from the right.

quick guide

UEFA World Cup qualifying play-offs


1. Qatar 2022 has three qualifying spots, to be played by 12 teams: the 10 group runners-up and the two highest-ranked winners of Nations League groups that have not otherwise qualified. Portugal, Scotland, Russia, Sweden and North Macedonia qualified as runners-up.

Many teams are guaranteed at least one play-off spot (including Poland, which have only a theoretical chance of catching England). Either Wales or the Czech Republic will be the runners-up in Group E, but whoever is not will receive a place via the Nations League route. Austria is guaranteed a place via the Nations League route.

2. Except for games against the lower side in six-team groups, the six-group runner-up with the best record will be given preference.

Portugal and Russia have a definite preference. Scotland are out of the seeded places so a result against Denmark is needed. Wales, who need to draw with Belgium to be sure to be runners-up, will be seeded if they want to win.

3. The seeded teams will play at home in a one-sided play-off semi-final on March 24-25. The draw on 26 November will determine which semifinals will award the home team to the one-off final on 28–29 March.

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Mitrovic said Serbia’s confidence was confirmed by a bold performance ahead of the game. He said, ‘We came here to play football and we earned all this because of being a better team. “We are reaping the rewards of hard work and the belief that we will be able to overcome the odds and beat Portugal. First of all we are very happy for our country and people.”

Stojkovic said: “We deserved to win tonight because the boys showed so much character. It’s a great achievement for Serbian football. The team showed maturity and composure under the most intense pressure and I would have said the same thing if it was 1-1.” Would have stopped and we would have been confined to the play-offs.”