Ukraine 2-1 Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 700th goal of his illustrious career and registered nine total shots by himself, but Portugal were made to pay for incoherent build-up and failing to break down the organized hosts for long stretches. Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov made nine saves in a wonderful performance.
Andriy Yarmolenko capitalized on poor defending in the first half to put the hosts up 2-0 after an early goal by Yarmechuck and Andriy Shevchenko's side became the fifth to qualify for Euro 2020 in front of an adoring home crowd in Kiev.
True to form, Fernando Santos shocked the Portuguese fanbase by selecting longtime absentee João Mário in the starting XI at the expense of Bruno Fernandes, who has struggled to reach his potential for the Seleção. João Félix also paid for failing to capitalize on his opportunities during the match against Luxembourg with Guedes stepping in to complete the forward trident alongside Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ukraine were unbeaten in five matches, scoring 11 goals and allowing none in return and it was they who threatened first when Yaremchuk found enough space to sneak in a low shot which Patricío gathered well.
Hosts take commanding lead
Ronaldo got forward down the right minutes later but his cross was too close to Pyatov. The hosts looked comfortable though, and they were ahead in the 6th minute following a corner kick. Marlos' delivery was spot on and Krivtsov's header was brilliantly saved at point blank range by Patricío, but the rebound was easily tucked away by Yaremchuk.
Ukraine maintained confident control of the match over the next twenty minutes while Portugal struggled to regain a foothold. Just as Portugal were finding their way back into the match however, Ukraine hit them again when Yarmolenko's angled run had him perfectly positioned to sweep home Mykolenko's wonderful cross from the left wing. Replays showed Raphael Guerreiro caught napping at the back as Yarmolenko streaked past him into the penalty area.
Portugal nearly cut the deficit just two minutes later when Ronaldo teed up João Mário perfectly at the edge of the 18 yard box, but Pyatov did well to parry his gdalbound shot wide of the left upright. Danilo then had a decent chance to test the keeper following the corner kick but he tried for too much power and skewed his shot well over the crossbar.
Bernardo Silva found just a yard of space to shoot in the 33rd minute, but his angle was poor and the shot was easily collected by Pyatov. The well-organized hosts allowed possession and even some half chances, but Portugal clearly lacked inspiration in the attacking third.
Cristiano Ronaldo continued to look lively and rifled a shot just over the bar after Portugal's high press forced a turnover in the 42nd minute. An ill-timed intervention by Pepe allowed a three-on-two at the back but Portugal were spared further punishment by Yarmolenko's poor finish just minutes before the half, and the hosts were forced to settle for their two goal advantage.
João Félix was immediately introduced to start the second half, and Ronaldo nearly began the comeback in the 49th minute with a swerving free kick that Pyatov awkwardly scooped up into the air. Ronaldo continued his assault on the Ukrainian and had another shot parried just wide minutes later after wriggling free of several defenders down the left channel.
The momentum was in Portugal's favor now, but the host's resolve remained intact and the match was surprisingly open considering Ukraine needed only a draw to qualify for the tournament proper.
Bruno Fernandes missed a glorious chance to cut the lead in the 66th minute when Bernardo Silva found him unmarked with a delicious cross from the right wing, but the Sporting playmaker's headed finish was well wide in the end.
Portugal halve the deficit
Bruma was thrown into the fray, but Ukraine nearly scored the next goal when Konoplyanka was sent clean through only for Pepe to turn back the years and put in a successful last-gasp challenge. Portugal's fortune then immediately changed as Stepanenko blocked a shot from Bruma with his arm.
The referee pointed to the spot after some deliberation and gave Stepanenko his second yellow with nearly 20 minutes still to play. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up nonchalantly to score his 700th career goal for club and country.
Ronaldo kept the pressure on, getting clear down the right channel and testing Pyatov with an off-balance attempt at his near post. But Ukraine responded with composure and deadened the tempo of the match with good spells of possession.
Portugal's captain was very unlucky not to score again in stoppage time when his header was brilliantly denied by Pyatov. Danilo then struck the angle of post and bar as the drama built to a crescendo.
But Ukraine completed their victory to quality for Euro 2020. Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's willing contribution, Santos' squad selection will certainly come under review and the cohesion of matches prior was distinctly missing. Though the statistics may show Portugal had the better of the match, Ukraine were deserved victors and should be commended for taking advantage of slack defending and lethargic attacking play from Portugal.
Nelson Semedo and Danilo also put in good performances with the latter nearly stealing a point at the death with a rocket, but the result was fair and Portugal will be required to wait until next month to book their own ticket to Euro 2020.
The Seleção will play Lithuania and Luxembourg to close out qualification.
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício - Raphael Guerreiro, Rúben Dias, Pepe, Nelson Semedo - Danilo, João Moutinho (Bruno Fernandes, 56'), João Mário (Bruma, 68') - Bernardo Silva, Gonçalo Guedes (Félix, 46'), Cristiano Ronaldo
Ukraine XI: Pyatov - Karavaev, Krivtsov, Matviyenko, Mykolenko (Plastun) - Stepananenko, Yarmolenko, Zinchenko, Malinovsky, Marlos (Konoplyanka) - Yaremchuk (Kovalenko)
[1-0] - Yaremchuk, 6'
[2-0] - Yarmolenko, 27'
[2-1] - Cristiano Ronaldo (PK), 72'
by Nathan Motz