Portugal end off Serbia in six-goal thriller

Serbia 2-4 Portugal

The Seleção triumphed in Belgrade tonight in an unlikely highscoring competition against Serbia, with Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo among the goals.

William started an otherwise boring game with a scratchy ending at the end of the first half, and Portugal traded blows with Serbia until the end to secure second place in Group B of Euro 2020 qualifying. Guedes followed his Nations League final with heroics with a different goal, proving yet again that critics were wrong about the quality of his finish.

Fernando Santos, always the unpredictable selected final scorer of the Nations League, Gonçalo Guedes, ahead of João Félix, while Danilo and William were paired again in midfield. Bernardo was pushed into the wing across from Guedes to take on Bruno Fernandes, while Nélson Semedo was again selected as right-back ahead of João Cancelo.

With such a high degree of importance for the qualification hopes of both sides, the first half was initially cage and remained tight during the half-time whistle.

Serbia revealed their predictable strategy of waiting for counterattack opportunities and they threatened first when Mitrovic was fired from Lazovic on a cross from the left, but his shot was worn out and allowed Patricio to rally with ease.

Portugal made a nice string of passes in the 11th minute and Bernardo’s pass appeared to have found its way to Ronaldo from the right, but the Serbian defense regained their composure at the last minute to block his shot on goal.

The game then fell into a stalemate when Serbia stayed in two banks with four defenders each and Portugal tried to pull crosses from wide positions. Guedes shot over a good shooting opportunity after a free kick, then Ronaldo Bernardo Silva’s cross appeared to have hit badly in front of goal, but the game was called offside.

Serbia threatened at times on the counter. First, Kolarov sent a bad cross just after the goal, and Patricio fluttered. Then the former Manchester City full-back should probably have done better in the 38th minute when a cross from the right found him unmarked, but his shot went wide past the goal and left upright.

William makes the decisive breakthrough

Portugal had created half-chances just minutes before half-time when they were rewarded for their persistence when Bruno Fernandes’ cross was mistreated by Dmitrovic. The goalkeeper’s attempt to strike was hampered by the early challenge of his own defender and struck William’s head. The Real Betis midfielder was able to deliver the rebound when it looked like Portugal would have anything to do in the second half.

Serbia insisted on starting the second half and Portugal almost counterattacked them when Ronaldo cut his marker and made a curled attempt close to the far post. Ronaldo was just as close with a free kick from 30 meters later, the shot barely hissed and the goalkeeper was well beaten.

Portugal’s passing game got more complicated when Serbia pushed harder for an equalizer. It paid off in the 58th minute when a good combination game between Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo Guedes set up. The Valencia winger hit a defender before shooting a shot from the left side of the box into the top right corner to extend Portugal’s lead. It was Guedes’ second goal in as many games for Portugal that justified his inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Félix.

Portugal’s celebrations were dampened a bit by the loss of Nélson Semedo to a severe-looking leg injury after he clashed with Aleksei Kolarov and was immediately introduced to Cancelo.

The situation became more worrying minutes later when Milenkovic escaped Danilo’s mark and brought home a free header from a corner in the 68th minute. Adem Ljajic almost equalized a minute later after a poor cross pass from Danilo, but Patrício only threw his wild attempt over the bar. Santos swapped Guedes for João Félix to contain the tide.

Portugal regained control and slowed the pace with a crisp pass and good defense. Cristiano Ronaldo then sealed the win in the 80th minute when a perfectly weighted pass from Bernardo Silva put Ronaldo one on one against Dmitrovic. Cristiano easily defeated the Serbian goalkeeper in that encounter, scoring his 89th international goal.

Fans flocked to the exits, but Mitrovic showed that Serbia wasn’t done yet. He collected a good pass from Dusan Tadic and hammered a shot into the top of the net to reduce Portugal’s lead. The pendulum swung again immediately, however, when Portugal returned straight to the length of the field and scored the fourth goal of the night when Bernardo Silva skillfully found the lower right corner after a pass from Raphael Guerreiro.

Portugal closed the hosts for the remaining minutes to take an all-important win. Bruno Fernandes, and Bernardo Silva in particular, were excellent, and Cristiano Ronaldo was once again influential, if not always closely involved. Portugal’s approach in the first half was pragmatic and generally unsuccessful in reducing Serbian resistance and in the end it must be said that Dmitrovic’s bad blow set the stage for a very different second half, with five goals between the two teams were.

William was solid as always but his partner Danilo made several mistakes, one of which resulted in a Serbian goal that threatened to undermine Portugal’s dynamism. Guedes deserves praise for scoring another crucial goal in a game where he generally contributed very little.

The Seleção will travel to Lithuania on Tuesday while Serbia visit third-placed Luxembourg. Portugal face another tough game against Ukraine in Kiev next month.

Portugal XI: Rui Patrício – Raphael Guerreiro, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, Nélson Semedo (Cancelo, 65 ‘) – William Carvalho, Danilo, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes (Moutinho, 85’) – Gonçalo Guedes (Félix, 68 ‘), Cristiano Ronaldo

Serbia XI: Dmitrovic, Milenkovic, Maksimovic, Nastasic, Kolarov – Matic, Milivojevic, Lazovic, Tadic, Kostic – Mitrovic

Gates:

[0-1] – William, 42 ‘

[0-2] – Gonçalo Guedes, 58 ‘

[1-2] – Milenkovic, 68 ‘

[1-3] – Ronaldo, 80 ‘

[2-3] – Mitrovic, 85 ‘

[2-4] – Bernardo Silva, 86 ‘

by Nathan Motz

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