Cristiano Ronaldo had described Portugal’s World Cup play-off final with North Macedonia as ‘the game of our lives’, via RTP.
His rallying cry to the Portuguese fans and his teammates paid off, with the country booking their place at Qatar 2022 after a torturous qualification process.
Portugal had won almost every game in their group, before losing at home to Serbia in November. This condemned them to second place, and the play-offs, and it was even harder to take after Ronaldo’s wrongly disallowed winner in their earlier draw with Serbia.
There seemed to be no luck for Portugal as they were tied in the same qualification bracket as Euro 2020 champions Italy, before the Azzurri suffered a shock defeat to North Macedonia last Thursday, while Portugal beat Turkey with the help of a missed penalty from Burak Yilmaz.
Underdogs North Macedonia could not repeat their heroics, with Portugal sealing an important 2-0 win to lock up their place in Qatar.
Ronaldo and Fernandes combine
Two Manchester United players started the game, with Diogo Dalot dropped for this final in favour of Joao Cancelo.
Bruno Fernandes scored the opener, stepping up at a crucial moment, after an assist from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The way the two players combined at such a big moment was perfect timing for Portugal, and what fans expect, even if it does not happen often enough. In this game, they stepped up when they were needed most.
Fernandes doubled Portugal’s lead with a second goal in the second half after an assist from Diogo Jota, and he was applauded as he was taken off in the final few minutes.
It feels right that two of the top stars in world football are heading to the World Cup, Ronaldo and Fernandes will grace Qatar 2022, and it’s quite possible Ronaldo will still be going in 2026 too.
The World Cup is the one trophy missing from Ronaldo’s trophy cabinet, and while it is a long shot to win it with Portugal, simply being there is a critical first step.
One notable development elsewhere in World Cup qualifying saw Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah miss out on a place at the finals.
Salah missed a penalty in a shootout, hitting his effort wide, as Egypt were defeated by Senegal in qualification after a 2-2 draw over two legs.
The World Cup is always better with the top players in it, but Salah missing out shows the fine line Ronaldo and Fernandes have walked. Thankfully both have made it, and Manchester United could benefit from their positivity upon their return to Carrington this week.