Lisbon (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of playing in a record-equalling fifth World Cup hang in the balance after Serbia stunned Portugal 2-1 in Lisbon to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Spain and Croatia did secure their places in Qatar on Sunday thanks to 1-0 wins over Sweden and Russia respectively.
Ronaldo already holds the record of playing in five European Championships and looked well on course for another milestone as Portgual stormed out of the blocks to open the scoring after just two minutes through Renato Sanches.
However, Serbia bounced back to dominate the remainder of the first half and deservedly levelled when Dusan Tadic’s strike squeezed in off the post after Dusan Vlahovic had hit the woodwork.
Ronaldo was kept quiet as another chance to score his 800th career goal came and went.
Instead it was Aleksandar Mitrovic who grabbed the vital goal as stoppage time approached.
Just over a year ago, Mitrovic was the villain for his country as he was the only player to fail to score in a penalty shootout against Scotland that saw Serbia miss out on Euro 2020.
However, the Fulham striker made amends in dramatic fashion when he steered in Tadic’s header at the back post.
Portugal must now navigate two tricky one-off playoff matches in March to maintain their record of qualifying for every major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
Spain made sure they avoided the playoffs as Alvaro Morata’s goal four minutes from time ended Sweden’s resistence in Seville.
The Swedes’ shock 2-0 defeat to Kazakhstan on Thursday had handed Spain pole position in Group B, meaning La Roja just needed a point to qualify.
Luis Enrique’s men were grateful for that reprieve as for a long time a repeat of the stalemate between the sides when they met in the group stages of Euro 2020 was on the cards.
Morata was the fall guy that night for missing a host of chances, but made his mark off the bench with a calm finish after Robin Olsen had turned Dani Olmo’s blistering shot onto the bar.
Croatia also needed a late winner as an own goal from Fedor Kudryashov snatched qualification from Russia in a battle in boggy conditions in Split.
Finalists at the last World Cup in 2018, Croatia looked bound for the playoffs as they toiled on a waterlogged pitch against a resolute Russian defence.
But Kudryashov’s error saw them snatch top spot from the visitors eight minutes from time.
“It was a difficult match from the beginning because of the rain. We never gave up, we were patient and I think we won deservedly. We are the best team in this group,” said Croatia captain Luka Modric.
Germany had long since booked their place in Qatar, but rounded off their qualifying campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of Armenia as Ilkay Gundogan scored twice.
North Macedonia secured the playoff place behind the four-time world champions with a 3-1 win over Iceland.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
- Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
- Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- Avram Glazer defends Man Utd reign after troubled season
- Mbappe says he consulted Macron over PSG deal
- West Ham’s Zouma in court over ‘cat abuse’ video
- Mbappe says he will not overstep role as a player under PSG deal
- Dortmund name Terzic as new head coach, sign Ozcan from Cologne
- Man City’s Mendy pleads not guilty to nine sex offences
- New Man Utd boss Ten Hag aims to smash Liverpool-City duopoly
- Teenager Fati summoned by Spain for Nations League matches
- Guardiola hails ‘legends’ as Man City prepare to party
- ‘For Lewandowski, Bayern is history’, says his agent