Portugal 1-1 Serbia
Another match, another night of frustration and wondering what might have been for the Seleção. As against Ukraine, Portugal faced a resolute display of defensive toughness and organization that proved too difficult to break down. Dusan Tadic, one of the match's best players, converted a first half penalty, but Danilo popped up to score a belting goal from long range to draw the sides level.
Then Portugal were dealt another blow as Ronaldo was forced off with an unknown injury in the first half. Try though they might, the home side were obligated yet again to settle for a bitter draw in front of an expectant home crowd in Lisbon.
As anticipated, Fernando Santos did make changes to the starting XI that faced Ukraine on Friday night with Rafa, Danilo, and Dyego Sousa coming into the team at the expense of Moutinho, André Silva, and Rúben Neves. But the heavily criticized double-pivot 4-4-2 remained in place albeit with Danilo bringing a very different set of capabilities to bear alongside William at the base of Portugal's midfield. Meanwhile, Dyego Sousa was hoping to exploit the opportunity offered him as a result of André Silva's poor form.
The first half was utterly manic. Portugal nearly took the lead in the 5th minute after a goalmouth scramble resulted in a William effort that floated just wide. But Serbia took the lead with their first attack of the game. Gacinovic was put clean through with a neat chip over the Portuguese backline from Tadic. Patrício rushed out to clear the danger but succeeded only in body-checking Gacinovic with the referee pointing to the spot after a moment's hesitation. Dusan Tadic sent Patricio the wrong way for the 0-1 lead.
Ronaldo was then denied by a brilliant save from Dmitrovic only moments later when his dipping shot from outside the box was palmed to safety. Rafa Silva was the next to go close with Dmitrovic again deflecting his effort just the wrong side of the post. Serbia, meanwhile, looked good value with every attack creating uncertainty along the Portuguese backline.
Chances kept coming for Portugal and Ronaldo brought down a long pass from the left with brilliant chest control only to mishit his attempt at a cross. But the situation went from bad to worse for Portugal in the 28th minute when Ronaldo noticeably felt something wrong in his right leg as he was chasing a mishit pass from Rafa. Santos was immediately forced to withdraw Ronaldo and Pizzi entered the fray.
The game quieted somewhat after Ronaldo's exit, but then Portugal's spirits were lifted by an unexpected hero. Danilo received the ball near midfield and took advantage of the hesitant Serbian response to mark him. The Porto midfielder galloped past several defenders and unleashed a blistering shot into the top right corner, a sensational goal.
.@UEFAEURO| @selecaoportugal x @FSSrbije | 1-1 |— SPORT TV (@SPORTTVPortugal) March 25, 2019
⚽ Danilo 42' | Mas que g-o-l-a-ç-o 🙀😲.
🇵🇹 #TodosPortugal #PORSRB #insubstituivel #ValeOBilhete #EURO2020
11 Ligas | 7 Taças | 2.000 jogos | Mais de 55.000 horas de desporto pic.twitter.com/krSHZXuBEL
Serbia came right back and nearly scored again when Mitrovic set up Tadic with a cushioned header, but the Ajax forward's poor effort skied over the bar. The visitors finished the half on top with Portugal pressed back into their own defensive third, but the teams went into the break all square at 1-1.
Rui Patricio was obligated to make the first save of the second half getting down smartly to his right with Tadic looking for any rebound. Then Dyego Sousa just missed making contact with an excellent cross from Guerreiro on the left.
Ljajic was set up beautifully in the 55th minute after good movement down the right, but his shot from the top of the penalty area was scuffed well over the bar. Fernando Santos exchanged André Silva for Dyego Sousa, who had struggled to make his mark on the game.
Portugal gradually retook control of the match but struggled to create good chances despite increased possession. Danilo tried another hopeful shot from range and William failed to control a decent André Silva cross from the right as Portugal labored.
Then with 20 minutes still to play, a goalmouth scramble involving Rafa Silva and William was somehow cleared by the dogged Serbian defense, a major let-off for the visitors. Minutes later a penalty was called for Portugal due to a handball in the area, but after a short discussion the referee waived it off. Replays showed the ball striking the defender's outstretched arm, and the decision was made even more perplexing because Portugal were also not awarded a corner after the penalty was retracted, possibly due to offside.
Guerreiro tested Dmitrovic with a free kick from the right in the 79th minute but Serbia continued to frustrate Portugal. The Borussia Dortmund left-back narrowly missed another shot from distance in stoppage time. There was even time for Bernardo Silva and Pepe to miss glorious chances that seemed destined for the back of the net.
But as in so many other cases throughout the years, Portugal endeavored to no end and face the prospect of yet another gruelling qualification campaign against opponents that seem beatable on paper. In truth, the loss of Ronaldo to injury desperately hurt their cause, but with or without its captain, Portugal let far too many chances go begging. Serbia for their part were resilient in defense and looked impressive on the counter until they tired in the second half.
Though skillful, Portugal's young talents showed a lack of ruthlessness over the course of the matches against Ukraine and Serbia. Meanwhile, Fernando Santos continues to field a defensively-oriented starting XI with two DMs attempting to inspire attacking play through midfield while maintaining cover for the back four. It hasn't worked, and Portugal have it all to do in Euro 2020 qualifying as they now turn their attention to the UEFA Nations League semifinals in June.
Portugal will resume qualification on September 7th against Serbia in Belgrade.
by Nathan Motz
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício; João Cancelo, Pepe, Rúben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo, William Carvalho, Rafa (Guedes, 84'), Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo (Pizzi, 31'), Dyego Sousa (André Silva, 57')
Serbia XI: Dmitrovic, Spajic, Milenkovic, Mladenovic, Rukavina, Maksimovic, Gacinovic (Radonjic, 21'), Ljajic (Milinkovic-Savic, 87'), Tadic, Lazovic (Zivkovic, 69'), Mitrovic
[0-1] Dusan Tadic, 7' PEN
[1-1] Danilo, 42'