Portugal have missed the chance the go three points clear at the top of their 2022 World Cup qualifying group after late officiating drama at the Rajko Mitic Stadium, this Saturday, denied Cristiano Ronaldo and co. from going beyond a 2-2 draw away to Serbia.
The Seleção das Quinas were in rampant form in Belgrade after racing to a two-goal lead in the first half, secured by a couple of Diogo Jota headers.
Portugal’s hard work was quickly undone, however, as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic cancelled out the advantage garnered by Fernando Santos’ men on his 1,000th game as a manager.
With the scores locked at 2-2, following a late red card for Serbia’s Nikola Milenkovic, Ronaldo saw a 93rd minute goal, without goal-line technology to save him, go unnoticed after seeing his effort hooked away in a rush by Stefan Mitrovic and convincing the officials of a legitimate clearance prior to full-time.
With travel laws between France and Serbia allowing Santos to count on his Ligue 1 imports, the likes of Anthony Lopes, deputising for the injured Rui Patrício in goal, Danilo Pereira and experienced centre back José Fonte came straight into the XI for the clash between the two Group A heavyweights, Portugal and Serbia.
The visitors started the affair well against the fluid shape of the Balkan outfit, picking holes in the opposition’s defence through Bernardo Silva before his cutback early into the affair was sent over by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal made their positive start count with a headed finish by Diogo Jota in the 11th minute as Bernardo Silva again took control of the creativity, curling in a left-footed cross into the back post for his fellow English Premier League star to nod in after ghosting behind the Serbian backline.
The Liverpool star was at it again in the 36th minute with the Seleção firmly in command, reacting first to Cedric Soares’ cross from the right flank and sending Portugal into the interval with a 2-0 lead after a second headed finish.
Serbia, off the back of two half-time changes, were quick in their bid to make amends for their initial slow start, however, halving Portugal’s lead a minute into the second period through target-man Aleksandar Mitrovic, also finding joy with his head after Nemanja Radonjic’s cross.
Cat-like reactions from Anthony Lopes were required as the hosts pressed on, tipping over Dusan Tadic’s deflected volley over the bar before Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s header from the subsequent corner, attacked at the near-post, raised further concerns after skimming the far-post in the 54th minute.
The second half continued to skip away from Santos’ men with Serbia able to capitalise on the counter, crowned by a Kostic finish with Radonjic pulling yet more strings for his nation, assisting on the hour mark.
Further drama was in store for the contest that had, for a long time, looked like fizzling out with a 2-2 score before Nikola Milenkovic’s straight red card for a challenge on Danilo with the studs showing, coming late into the night.
Just as the curtains were about the be drawn on the encounter, Ronaldo found a way to pip Marko Dmitrovic to a through ball and slot a shot in direction of the goal, supposedly cleared off the line by Stefan Mitrovic.
Portugal’s night soured as replays sparked controversy when showing that Ronaldo’s initial effort had edged itself over the line, denying the European champions of a second successive victory in qualification.