Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a stunning goal in the second minute of stoppage time to upset reigning European champions Italy.
Portugal dug deep and held off Turkey’s inspired second-half fightback to advance to the World Cup playoff final. Otavio and Diogo Jota’s first-half goals put the home side in cruise control at Estadio do Dragao. However, Burak Yilmaz reduced the deficit with 25 minutes remaining to give the visitors a chance of a comeback and they got the opportunity to equalise from a late penalty. But the goalscorer Yilmaz fired over the crossbar from the penalty spot before Matheus Nunes added a third in stoppage time to help Portugal reach one step closer to World Cup qualification.
Their reward for the hard-fought victory is a final clash against North Macedonia. On paper, Cristiano Ronaldo-led side should easily win this match. But that’s not how football works, and the European champions Italy will agree with the notion. The mighty Italians were expected to walk past North Macedonia in the playoff semifinal.
But what happened on Thursday night was beyond explainable. Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a stunning goal in the second minute of stoppage time to upset the reigning European champions. It means the Italians will miss out on a second successive World Cup participation.
When the playoff draw was made, the possibility of Portugal and Italy competing on the same side of the draw for a place in the Qatar World Cup piqued everyone’s interest. If both European giants had won their respective matches, the playoff final would have been between them. Thereby, either Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best football player in the world, or the reigning European champions would have missed out on an opportunity to play in the showpiece event later this year.
Both sets of fans were worried for obvious reasons. Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and missing out on a second consecutive tournament would have been a nightmare for the four-time World champions.
On the other hand, if Portugal fail to qualify, the world will be deprived of witnessing one of the greatest players in history take part in the World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo has a massive fan base all over the world. Not only do Manchester United and Portugal fans support him, but the majority of the world would like to see him in the footballing spectacle later this year. Ronaldo is currently 37 years old, and it is unclear whether he will be available to play in the next World Cup four years from now. As a result, this could be the legendary player’s final appearance in the global showpiece event.
As it turns out, Ronaldo fans might still see their idol play in the middle Eastern country, thanks to North Macedonia’s upset victory on Thursday night. However, it will not be a straight forward affair when Portugal face them on Tuesday. Having said that, any Portuguese fan would prefer to face North Macedonia rather than Italy in the playoff final. It is now up to the Portugal national team to complete the formalities and give Cristiano Ronaldo another shot at World Cup glory.