Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes for the 2022 World Cup took a big setback as Serbia clinched an automatic berth to the tournament in a comeback 2-1 win over Portugal in their Group A qualifier on Sunday, according to Reuters.
A 90th-minute header by half-time substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic lifted Serbia into the group’s top spot on 20 points, three more than second-placed Portugal, which only needed a draw to finish on top on goal difference and qualify.
Instead, Ronaldo & Co. will head into the March playoffs with the other group-stage runners-up to try to reach Qatar 2022.
Mitrovic beat home goalkeeper Rui Patricio with a downward header at the far post to spark wild celebrations on Serbia’s bench after visiting captain Dusan Tadic had cancelled out an early Renato Sanches opener for Portugal.
Jubilant fans thronged central Belgrade, bringing traffic at the main Republic Square to a halt as they waved Serbian flags and hooted their car horns.
With Portugal’s talismanic captain Ronaldo stifled, they produced little upfront and midfielder Joao Palhinha conceded the home side were below par.
“We have to take responsibility because we had a poor game,” he told Portugal’s RTP television. “We just defended in the second half. Credit to Serbia, they played very well but we had the capacity to be on top.
“You can’t win all the time. Difficulties are part of life and this feeling should give us more strength.”