The Macedonians need a win, Portugal and Ronaldo will try not to make mistakes of the Italians
Portugal have five wins and two draws in their qualifying group in the first seven rounds, with the eighth match against Serbia in Lisbon being the decisive one, in which the Portuguese needed only a draw. When Renato Sanchez opened the scoring in the second minute, the stands at the José Alvalade were already celebrating qualification for the 2022 World Cup, and although Dusan Tadic’s goal in the first half slightly cooled the ardor of the fans, the Portuguese believed to the last that their team would solve the problem. Fernando Santos’s team almost did. Almost, because in the 90th minute Aleksandar Mitrovic earned Serbia the win and a trip to Qatar, and the Portuguese were second to go to the knockout phase.
North Macedonia could at best expect to finish second in their group, because their opponent was Germany, which plays without mistakes in the qualifying tournaments. However, in the third round Macedonians sensationally defeated the Germans in Duisburg; Sergey Karasev officiated the match, while Joachim Leo was at the helm of the Bundesmanschaft. After that triumph, Northern Macedonia had a string of draws and a replay at home against Germany (0:4), while the decisive points were earned at the tournament’s finish when they managed to crush Armenia (5:0) and take on Iceland (3:1). The Macedonians were one point ahead of Romania, who had only one point against them.
Semifinals of the tie: Knocked out Turkey, shocked Italy
After December’s draw for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, held in a new format – not between two teams “home and away” as before, but with four contenders for one ticket, semifinals and finals – everyone grabbed their heads when Portugal and Italy got on the same track. One of the last two European champions was guaranteed to miss the 2022 World Cup, and there was little doubt that Portugal and Italy would find out in a head-to-head match.
The Portuguese had completed their part of the task, beating Turkey 3-1, although not without adventures. The Portuguese were confidently leading 2-0, but conceded a goal midway through the second half from Burak Yilmaz, and then earned a penalty in their own goal. Yilmaz was to have scored twice, but the 36-year-old Turkish forward flinched. Team Turkey kept their hands up, but the main chance to get back into the game was missed, and in the closing stages of the match the Turkish team conceded a counterattack and a third goal.
The Portugal-Turkey contest was the most productive of the semifinals of the European playoffs for the right to play in the World Cup, but the game between Italy and Northern Macedonia in Palermo was deadlocked in regulation time, when former Palermo forward Aleksandar Trajkovski knocked out all of Sicily and all of Italy with a 90+2 minute goal. “The Scuadra Azzurra created an eight-goal advantage in shots, 32-4, but scored one less goal and are forced to miss their second Mundial in a row.
Portugal wants to go to sixth World Cup in a row, North Macedonia for first ever
– The Portuguese national team has participated in the final tournaments of seven World Cups. They played in the World Cup for the first time in 1966, when they claimed their best ever result, winning the bronze medal.
– The 2022 World Cup may become the sixth tournament in a row that will feature Portugal. The Portuguese have not missed a single World Cup in the 21st century.
– Northern Macedonia has participated in World Cup qualifiers since the 1998 World Cup. The previous six qualifying campaigns have not been successful, that is, the national team of Northern Macedonia has not yet played in the World Championships. The only major tournament in which this national team has participated is Euro 2020, held last year. Appetite comes with food, now the “red lions” want to get to the World Cup by going over the heads of Italy and Portugal.
– The North Macedonian national team has never been so close to qualifying for the World Cup. They finished fourth and fifth in six previous qualifying groups, once even sixth, and now are one match away from the dream.
– This is the first official match between Portugal and Northern Macedonia. In two friendly matches, the Macedonians have not scored a single goal, but they have also conceded only one – 1-0 in favor of Portugal in 2003, 0-0 in 2012.