Washington: Cristiano Ronaldo will get another shot at lifting the World Cup. Portugal beat North Macedonia 2-0 in a European play-off Tuesday. In the process Cristiano Ronaldo ensured that he will make a fifth appearance in succession. It was crucial match for Portugal as a loss would have ended their aspirations of playing in Qatar World Cup. It should be stated here that North Macedonia had earlier created a stunning upset when they defeated Italy ahead of the game against Portugal.
Thirty-two teams, including the hosts, will play in the Qatar World Cup starting November 21. As of Tuesday, 27 teams have qualified with two additional spots to be determined Wednesday. Two inter-continental play-offs will be held in June along with two games to determine the final European berth.
Portugal’s win finalised the eight seeds for Friday’s draw. They are Qatar, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Portugal and Spain.
All eyes were on North Macedonia, vying for its first World Cup berth after surprisingly eliminating Italy. However, the small country that gained independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991 fell short. Portugal made its eighth World Cup and sixth in a row.
“Goal achieved, we are at the Qatar World Cup, we are in our rightful place! Thank you to all the Portuguese for the tireless support! Portugal strong! (sic)” Ronaldo posted to social media in Portuguese.
The World Cup trophy is the one prize that has eluded Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner. While the 37-year old is a lock for his team’s roster in Qatar, fellow international star Mohamed Salah will miss out after Egypt fell to Senegal on Tuesday.
Bruno Fernandes scored both the goals for Portugal, the first off a Ronaldo lay-off and then in the second half he scored from close range latching on to an inch-perfect pass from Diogo Jota.
Senegal advanced on a penalty shootout for one of Africa’s five berths after fans shone lasers in Salah’s face while he stepped up to take Egypt’s first penalty kick. Salah blasted his attempt over the crossbar while he had green-coloured lasers pointed at his face and body.
Salah’s Liverpool teammate Sadio Mané struck the winning penalty after the teams drew 1-1 on aggregate, sending Senegal to its third World Cup.
Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty in the 50th minute and Poland secured their second straight World Cup berth with a 2-1 victory over Sweden in another European play-off. It was Lewandowski’s 75th international goal in 129 appearances.