Portugal coach Fernando Santos and his players were naturally delighted after beating Turkey 3-1 at the Estádio do Dragão tonight to reach the World Cup playoff final, but were unanimous in warning believing in anything other than a tough match against the surprise opponents North Macedonia, who sensationally defeated Italy in Palermo.
“That penalty could have complicated matters,” admitted Santos referring to Turkey’s missed opportunity to make it 2-2 in the second half. “But I think it was undisputedly a deserved victory for Portugal.”
Fernando Santos, Portugal coach:
“The first 20-25 minutes were very good in offensive and defensive organisation, with and without the ball. Everything was going perfectly. Then we lowered our intensity, mainly in relation to pressing our opponents. From that moment our opponents began playing and when we have less of the ball, we have more difficulties. There was a ten-minute period there, when things didn’t flow as they should. From the 35th minute, we got back into it and we scored the second goal.
“In the second half we started well again. We didn’t finish our chances and this is what happens in football. You don’t finish, the opponents in a one-off play end up scoring and that penalty could have complicated matters. But I think it was undisputedly a deserved victory for Portugal.”
“Everyone predicted an Italy win, apart from the Macedonian people, for sure. Finals are very tough. I know what it’s like playing a final. Finals are games you have to win, not think that you’ve won them before you’ve played it.”
Otávio, Portugal midfielder:
“I’m really happy. The most important thing was to qualify for the playoff final and then to qualify for the World Cup. Turkey are a great team, but we knew a united Portugal is very strong and that was proven tonight.
“Yes, it was a surprise for me that I started. Do I now expect to start on Tuesday? No, the only thing that’s important is that Portugal win and we go to the World Cup.”
Matheus Nunes, Portugal midfielder:
“We worked hard for the victory and now we’re going to prepare for the next game, which is another final. Although we had to go through a playoff, but we remained confident we’ll be at the World Cup.
“My goal? It was incredible. But the taste of victory was even better. The goal would not have had the same taste if we hadn’t won.
“Macedonia? We can’t think it will be easy. We have to give North Macedonia all the respect they deserve. They’ve just knocked out Italy so we have to play them as if we were playing against Italy.”
Danilo, Portugal centre-back:
“We know how important Pepe and Rúben Dias are for us. They are really important. Today we played with an unprecedented pair, me and Fonte, I think we didn’t compromise the team and we did well.
“We started the match well, but then we relaxed a bit and this gave Turkey confidence to pull a goal back. It’s very important to keep our focus. We earned our advantage because of the way we controlled the midfield, but then we took the foot off the pedal and gave Turkey confidence.
“Macedonia? Today there are no easy opponents. Macedonia beat Italy and now we have another final we have to win.”
Diogo Costa, Portugal goalkeeper:
“I’m proud of myself for having worked hard to reach this moment, to be able to play [for my country]. I’m really proud but above all really happy because we won this game. We are now focused on playing against Macedonia to win and qualify for the World Cup.
“With all due respect to Turkey, we knew we were a team with more quality, but we also knew we had to collectively show that quality and that’s what we did. We gave our all for the country and things turned out naturally.
“When did I find out I was starting? I found out when we arrived at the stadium. It was a special moment, it gave me goosebumps. But to be honest, it was during the warm-up and stepping onto the pitch when I felt most nervous. When the match starts, with such a strong focus, we only think about playing.”
By Tom Kundert