One Last Ride: Have Portugal Just Qualified For Ronaldo's Last World Cup?

Portugal did a professional job in beating potential banana skin North Macedonia in Porto
21:44, 29 Mar 2022

Portugal have qualified for the 2022 World Cup by virtue of a 2-0 win at home to North Macedonia. This was a potential banana skin, as the visitors had knocked out reigning European Champions Italy in their play-off semi-final, but there was to be no miracle this time. Bruno Fernandes’ finely-taken brace settled the tie. 

While Cristiano Ronaldo did not get on the scoresheet, he can relish the knowledge he will have at least one more World Cup in which to dazzle us. Manchester United supporters may also enjoy the way Ronaldo and Fernandes linked up for Portugal’s opener, demonstrating a unity of thought that could benefit their club’s top-four bid. 

North Macedonia were always going to have their work cut out when it came to pulling off a second huge upset in five days. They got off to an encouraging start though, looking dangerous on the counter and having the better of much of the early play. The ever-present threat that Portugal carry was evident though, as Cristiano Ronaldo evaded defensive attention with a burst of pace before pulling a shot wide.

The visitors’ best chance came when Ezgjan Alioski hit an audacious volley from distance. The full-back saw his spectacular attempt fly helplessly wide. That was as good as it got for North Macedonia in the first half, as the hosts began to take control.

Liverpool’s Diogo Jota lost his marker at a corner and his downward header bounced narrowly over Stole Dimitrievski’s goal. Macedonia would be the architects of their own downfall shortly afterwards. Stefan Ristovski’s misplaced pass fell to Bruno Fernandes. The midfielder combined with Manchester United teammate Ronaldo, who slotted a neat nutmeg pass back to him, before Fernandes smashed his shot home. There was an air of catharsis about his celebration, perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact it felt good to dovetail with a player that he is often accused of clashing with. Perhaps he was just celebrating coming one step closer to the World Cup. Perhaps both emotions were swimming in his blood as he defiantly punched the night air in Porto.

Portugal had one more chance before half-time, and once again Ronaldo was the architect. The United forward latched onto a long ball and could only drag his shot into the box from a tight angle. Jota acted fast, sidestepping the on-rushing Dimitrievski before powering his shot into the side-netting.

Portugal did not allow themselves the same slow start they made in the first half when the second period commenced. Bruno Fernandes was quick to test Dimitrievski with a well-struck but too-straight effort. 

Fernandes added his second, doubling Portugal’s lead from a wonderful counter-attack that he started. Jota was the provider, pitching a perfect ball over the top as the midfielder made up a remarkable amount of ground before applying a deft finish. It was a blistering move, and the crowd was louder than it had been all game. The heated atmosphere got the best of both teams, as an altercation between Jota and Alioski led to players from both sides pushing and shoving. 

Enis Bardhi had been North Macedonia’s finest player on the night, and even at 2-0 down he still tried to create openings. The Levante man came close, snaking through before striking wide of the Portugal goal. The attacking midfielder was his side’s main creative outlet, but it wasn’t enough to break down a resolute Portuguese rearguard.

Portugal kept probing late on, and it was clear Ronaldo was desperately sniffing out a goal. A couple of long balls narrowly evaded his head, while receiving the ball in the box had him turning from side to side to try and shape a shooting opportunity. 

Portugal will travel to Qatar this winter to play in the World Cup for perhaps the final time with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks. The legendary forward will be determined to make an impact, but he demonstrated tonight his ability to contribute to a professional team performance. Ronaldo and Fernandes in particular demonstrated a club-honed understanding that looks like it may finally translate to the Old Trafford pitch. With that pairing, as well as the likes of Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Diogo Jota in their ranks, Portugal will certainly not be going to the World Cup just to take part.

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