North Macedonia will be looking to cause another major upset in FIFA World Cup qualification when they take on Portugal in a playoff final with the spot in Qatar on the line.
Not many would have predicted North Macedonia to get past the European Champions Italy but after their shock win, Portugal could fall into the same trap.
Cristiano Ronaldo has termed this tie a “matter of life and death” for his team and has truly warned his team not to take the threat of North Macedonia lightly.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal side, who preceded Italy as European champions in 2016, might have been bracing themselves for the prospect of a decisive showdown with the Azzurri but instead, North Macedonia will be the visitors to the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, with the winners going to Qatar.
“At the moment football is different. Anybody can beat anybody. Names, numbers, and statistics don’t matter,” warned veteran Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho when asked about facing the country of two million people ranked 67th in the world.
“We have to show on the pitch that we have more quality and impose our own game.”
Portugal survived a scare to beat Turkey 3-1 in their semi-final, almost throwing away a two-goal lead only for Burak Yilmaz to miss a late penalty for the visitors before Matheus Nunes secured the hosts’ victory.
Fernando Santos’s team had already squandered first place in their qualifying group by conceding in the last minute to lose 2-1 at home to Serbia in November.
For Portugal, failing to qualify for the World Cup would be nothing short of a scandal given the difference in the quality of the two sides. For Ronaldo, the all-time leading international goal-scorer at the age of 37, this will surely be his last chance to try and win a World Cup provided his team gets there.
Both Pepe and Joao Cancelo are expected to return to the lineup in a major boost for the hosts.
Portugal, who are set to be among the top seeds if they qualify, have not missed a World Cup since 1998, while Euro 2020 was the first major tournament appearance of any sort for North Macedonia.
The visitors, however, have already defeated Germany as well as Italy away in this campaign, while drawing 0-0 in a friendly on their one previous visit to Portugal, in 2012.