Serbia 2-4 Portugal
The Seleção were triumphant in an unlikely high-scoring contest against Serbia in Belgrade tonight with Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo in amongst the goals.
William kick-started an otherwise dull match at the very end of the first half with a scrappy finish, and Portugal traded blows with Serbia until the end to wrestle back second place in Group B of qualification for Euro 2020. Guedes followed his Nations League final heroics with another goal, once again proving any detractors mistaken about the quality of his finishing.
Fernando Santos, ever the unpredictable, selected Nations League final goalscorer Gonçalo Guedes ahead of João Félix to start while Danilo and William were again paired in midfield. Bernardo was pushed out to the wing opposite Guedes to accommodate Bruno Fernandes while Nélson Semedo was chosen ahead of João Cancelo again at right-back.
With such a high degree of significance for both side's hopes of qualification, the opening half was cagey to begin and remained tight through the half-time whistle.
Serbia revealed their predictable strategy of lying in wait for counterattacking opportunities and it was they who threatened first when Mitrovic was teed up by Lazovic after a cross from the left, but his shot was scuffed and allowed Patricio to gather with ease.
Portugal strung together a nice series of passes in the 11th minute and initially Bernardo's pass from the right seemed to have found its way through to Ronaldo, but the Serbian defense regained their composure at the last minute to block his goalbound shot.
The match then descended into a stalemate with Serbia remaining in two banks of four defenders and Portugal trying to loop in crosses from wide positions. Guedes blasted over a decent shooting opportunity following a free kick, then Ronaldo appeared to have badly mishit Bernardo Silva's cross in front of goal, but the play was whistled for offside.
Serbia intermittently threatened on the counter. First, Kolarov sent an errant cross just past the frame of the goal with Patricio flapping then the former Manchester City fullback probably should have done better in the 38th minute when a cross from the right found him unmarked, but his shot drifted well wide of the left upright.
William makes crucial breakthrough
Portugal had only created half-chances until minutes before halftime when they were rewarded for their persistence as Bruno Fernandes' cross was mishandled by Dmitrovic. The keeper's attempted punch was complicated by his own defender's untimely challenge and bounced into William's head. The Real Betis midfielder was able to turn in the rebound just when it appeared Portugal would have it all to do in the second half.
Serbia were more insistent to begin the second half and Portugal nearly hit them on the counterattack when Ronaldo cut inside his marker and placed a curled effort just wide of the far post. Ronaldo went equally close minutes later with a free kick from 30 yards, the shot fizzing just wide and the keeper well-beaten.
Portugal's passing game became more intricate as Serbia pushed harder for an equalizer. It paid dividends in the 58th minute when good combination play between Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo set up Guedes. The Valencia winger beat one defender before lashing a shot from the left side of the penalty area into the top right corner to expand Portugal's lead. It was Guedes' second goal in as many matches for Portugal justifying his inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Félix.
Portugal's celebrations were somewhat dampened by the loss of Nélson Semedo to a serious looking leg injury after he clashed with Aleksei Kolarov and Cancelo was immediately introduced.
The situation became more worrisome minutes later when Milenkovic escaped Danilo's marking and powered home a free header following a corner in the 68th minute. Adem Ljajic nearly scored the equalizer a minute later after a bad lateral pass from Danilo, but Patrício just tipped his ferocious effort over the bar. Santos exchanged Guedes for João Félix to help stem the tide.
Portugal regained control and deadened the tempo with some crisp passing and good defending. 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 keeper in that encounter to score his 89th international goal.
Fans streamed toward the exits, but Mitrovic showed that Serbia were not finished yet. He collected a good pass from Dusan Tadic and absolutely hammered a shot into the roof of the net to cut Portugal's lead. But the pendulum immediately swung once again as Portugal went straight back up the length of the pitch and scored their fourth of the night when Bernardo Silva expertly found the bottom right corner after receiving a pass from Raphael Guerreiro.
Portugal shut down the hosts for the remaining minutes to claim a hugely important victory. Bruno Fernandes and especially Bernardo Silva were excellent, and Cristiano Ronaldo was again influential if not always intimately involved. Portugal's approach in the first half was pragmatic and generally unsuccessful in breaking down the Serbian resistance, and in the end it must be said that Dmitrovic's poor punch set the conditions for a very different second half in which five goals were scored between the two sides.
William, as ever, was solid but his partner Danilo made several errors, one of which resulted in a Serbia goal which threatened to derail Portugal's momentum. Guedes deserves praise for scoring another crucial goal in a match where he generally contributed fairly little otherwise.
The Seleção will travel to Lithuania on Tuesday while Serbia visit third-placed Luxembourg. Portugal face another difficult match against Ukraine next month in Kiev.
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
[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