Portuguese face Italy’s shock conquerors North Macedonia in play-off final in Porto
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Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates trained in Porto on Monday ahead of their key World Cup qualifier final against North Macedonia.
The Macedonians pulled off one of the great World Cup qualification upsets by knocking out European champions Italy 1-0 in the play-off semi-final on Thursday.
Italy humiliated by North Macedonia and miss another World Cup
An injury time strike by Aleksandar Trajkovski was enough to send Roberto Mancini’s Azzuri, who had 32 attempts at goal, packing in Palermo. It meant that the Italians have failed to qualify for the past two World Cups.
Now Ronaldo and Co, who survived a scare to beat Turkey 3-1 in the other playoff semi-final, must take on the Balkan nation in the final at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto.
2016 European champions Portugal are ranked eighth in the world, with the Macedonians a lowly 67th, but veteran Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho warned his teammates against complacency.
“At the moment football is different. Anybody can beat anybody. Names, numbers and statistics don’t matter,” said Moutinho.
“We have to show on the pitch that we have more quality and impose our own game.”
Speaking on Monday of North Macedonia’s shock win, Ronaldo said: “We were surprised. North Macedonia has surprised in many matches. But I don’t think they will surprise us tomorrow. Portugal will play better and we will make it to the World Cup.
“We know that if we win we will go to the World Cup and if we lose we are out. We have the responsibility to be positive and win the match. I see everyone well prepared and wanting to be at their best tomorrow. There is no World Cup without Portugal.” Ronaldo said.
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Fernando Santos’s side missed out on automatic qualification for Qatar when they lost top spot in their group after conceding in the last minute to go down 2-1 to Serbia at home in November.
“We have a responsibility to get to the World Cup so that means the pressure is there regardless of who we are playing. We know perfectly well that we have to be in Qatar,” said Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva.
Veteran defender Pepe, who had Covid-19, and Joao Cancelo are set to return to the Portugal squad.
With 115 goals in 185 matches, Ronaldo is the all-time leading international goal-scorer but at 37 years old, this will surely be his last chance to play at a World Cup.
North Macedonia, whose first major tournament appearance was Euro 2020, have beaten Germany as well as Italy away in this campaign.
Their coach, Blagoja Milevski, said: “We are well on our way to confirming why we are among the top 20 teams in Europe.”
Key midfielder Elif Elmas said: “We have 90 minutes to fulfil our childhood dream, not only ours, but of the whole country. Simply, we have to know that we can’t miss this chance and we have to ‘burn’ on the pitch in order to get to Qatar.”
You can see Ronaldo and his teammates in training for the World Cup qualifier final in the gallery above. To move on to the next photo, click on the arrows or if using a mobile device, simply swipe.
Updated: March 29, 2022, 3:45 AM