Portugal’s gruelling journey to 2022 FIFA World Cup is almost complete. North Macedonia are the last hurdle to overcome with the playoff final being contested at Estádio do Dragão on Tuesday. 

Fernando Santos’ side looked to be cruising to the final after earning a 2-0 half time lead against Turkey. But in true Seleção fashion, they were a missed penalty away from allowing the Turks to equalise before a late goal secured a 3-1 victory. 

North Macedonia snuck into the playoffs where they produced an incredible 1-0 victory against Italy. Gli Azzurri wasted chance after chance in Palermo before Aleksandar Trajkovski struck the killer blow in added time.

Head to Head

Portugal and North Macedonia have met on two occasions, both in international friendlies.

The Seleção won 1-0 in Switzerland in 2003 with Luís Figo scoring the winner for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side.

They last met in Leiria in 2012 with the match ending in a 0-0 draw. João Moutinho and Cristiano Ronaldo started, Rui Patrício and Pepe failing to get off the bench for Paulo Bento’s side.

Portugal Form 

Portugal ended 2021 with two poor results, the first a 0-0 draw against Republic of Ireland which was a game to forget in Dublin. They only needed a draw against Serbia at Estádio da Luz to reach the World Cup but couldn’t get it done.

It was looking promising when Renato Sanches opened the scoring in the 2nd minute, but Portugal went into their shell despite Fernando Santos’ best efforts to reverse the trend. 

Dusan Tadic equalised before the break and Aleksandar Mitrovic struck the killer blow in the 90th minute, a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat sending the Seleção into another playoff. 

Portugal beat Turkey 3-1 in the semi-finals, Otávio opening the scoring before assisting Diogo Jota who made it 2-0 before the break. Burak Yilmaz scored in the 65th minute before firing a penalty over the bar in the 85th minute. 

Two substitutes combined to seal the deal in added time, Rafael Leão breaking free and releasing Matheus Nunes who secured Portugal’s spot in the final. 

Portugal Squad & Team News 

Goalkeepers: Rui Patrício, Anthony Lopes, Diogo Costa

Defenders: Raphaël Guerreiro, José Fonte, Cédric Soares, Pepe, João Cancelo, Nuno Mendes, Diogo Dalot, Gonçalo Inácio, Tiago Djaló

Midfielders: João Moutinho, William Carvalho, Bernardo Silva, Danilo Pereira, Bruno Fernandes, Matheus Nunes, Otávio, Vitinha

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, André Silva, Gonçalo Guedes, Diogo Jota, João Félix, Rafael Leão

Fernando Santos sprung a surprise against Turkey by replacing Rui Patrício with Diogo Costa. It was Costa’s first competitive start for the senior side, and it’s likely the 22-year-old remains in goal at the Estádio do Dragão.

Pepe has recovered from covid-19 and was integrated into the team’s training at Estádio do Bessa on Sunday morning. He should start in Porto which will be a big boost.

Joao Cancelo has served his suspension and will replace Diogo Dalot at right-back.

Santos reverted to the system that brought Portugal their first major trophy at the 2016 European Championship. Otávio has all the attributes to be successful in that system, as he proved against Turkey with a goal and an assist in a man of the match performance.

North Macedonia Form

North Macedonia won three of their final four World Cup qualifiers to sneak into the playoffs.

Blagoja Milevski’s side won 4-0 in Liechtenstein before a humbling 4-0 defeat to Germany in Skopje. They bounced back in style, winning 5-0 in Armenia with Enis Bardhi hitting a hat-trick and 3-1 against Iceland with Eljif Elmas bagging a brace.

North Macedonia shocked many by beating Italy 1-0 in Italy in the playoff semi-final. They were completely outplayed in Palermo, but hung in and scored in added time thanks to Aleksandar Trajkovski’s long range strike.

North Macedonia Squad & Team News

Goalkeepers: Stole Dimitrievski, Kristijan Naumovski, Damjan Shishkovski

Defenders: Todor Todoroski, Stefan Ashkovski, Kire Ristevski, Visar Musliu, Ezgjan Alioski, Stefan Ristovski, Darko Velkovski, Nikola Serafimov

Midfielders: Arijan Ademi, Elif Elmas, Enis Bardhi, Darko Churlinov, Boban Nikolov, Valon Ethemi, Stefan Spirovski, Tihomir Kostadinov, David Babunski, Erdal Rakip, Jani Atanasov

Forwards: Aleksandar Trajkovski, Dorian Babunski, Milan Ristovski, Bojan Miovski, Erdon Daci

Boban Nikolov suffered an injury against Italy and is doubtful. His potential absence is offset by Eljif Elmas and Tihomir Kostadinov returning from suspension.

Elmas is North Macedonia’s star player and his availability is a huge plus for Milevski’s side, but his fitness is a concern after playing just 85 minutes in the last month for Napoli.

Aleksandar Trajkovski has scored two goals in his last three internationals to make it 20 goals in 75 matches for his country.

Verdict

Portugal have been given a gift with North Macedonia defeating Italy. The Seleção will control this match and have a large proportion of possession and shots.

The return of João Cancelo is a big boost and Pepe’s likely inclusion will be another positive in Porto. Otávio's confidence, familiarity at the at Estádio do Dragão and ability to suit Santos' system compliments a fine midfield and attack.

North Macedonia deserve respect after reaching the final and have scored in their last nine away matches in the World Cup qualifiers. Eljif Elmas' availability comes at the right time for Blagoja Milevski’s side.

Regardless, the stage is set for Ronaldo to steer Portugal to victory in front of a boisterous home crowd.

Força!

By Matthew Marshall

Comments (15)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

So we are playing a "park the bus" team, North Macedonia. We need to start out hard and fast and get that first goal and avoid a fluke goal by NM. This is how you crack these all defensive team. Score first and then keep up the...

So we are playing a "park the bus" team, North Macedonia. We need to start out hard and fast and get that first goal and avoid a fluke goal by NM. This is how you crack these all defensive team. Score first and then keep up the pressure. We all know that Italy dominated NM but simply did not score. Let's not be that team with 32 shots and no goals.

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John Senos
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And yet he’s going to field the mature players into defensive positions and expect random crosses to find an idle Ronaldo lurking in the box

I know that sounds pessimistic but patterns are hard to break. I’ve seen it too many times.

I hope...

And yet he’s going to field the mature players into defensive positions and expect random crosses to find an idle Ronaldo lurking in the box

I know that sounds pessimistic but patterns are hard to break. I’ve seen it too many times.

I hope however, they get some speedy wingers to match some speedy full backs and create havoc in their final 3rd.

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Jerrold Hewson
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Do you know a better way out.

Have you coached a team before, if not.

Lets leave it to the the experts.

Today, Fernando Santos is the coach because he has the required credential.

Reliability, consistence, trust of a player is more important...

Do you know a better way out.

Have you coached a team before, if not.

Lets leave it to the the experts.

Today, Fernando Santos is the coach because he has the required credential.

Reliability, consistence, trust of a player is more important than the age of a player which comes with experience.

You need old and new to make things to happen in a team.

A Coach is a Coach and a Player is a Player, both are humans like you and me. Once the team is on the field its the game is CONTROLLED by the players and not Fernando Santos.

Last match they pressed well upfront and so they where up 2 - 0, once the team relaxed they conceded a goal.

SO LETS NOT BLAME Fernando Santos or Ronaldo or Older players.

Lets PRAY for little bit of luck to win the game.

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Neville
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I'm also concerned about the random crosses approach, along with too many shots from distance. That always seems doomed to failure when you have 9 opposing players standing in the box, ready to block. We've seen that as a route to failure for...

I'm also concerned about the random crosses approach, along with too many shots from distance. That always seems doomed to failure when you have 9 opposing players standing in the box, ready to block. We've seen that as a route to failure for Portugal before against much weaker "park the bus" teams. Goals & best chances against Turkey seemed to come from slow high lobs into the box, usually from central or diagonal left or right, not directly from the side.

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F.C.JCHarvard
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Preview

I agree this'll be the line-up FS selects except Fonte will partner Pepe. It's discombobulated but hey finally we get to see Bernardo moving centrally.

My line up:

Leão---CR7---André Silva----------
---------------Bernardo-------------...

Preview

I agree this'll be the line-up FS selects except Fonte will partner Pepe. It's discombobulated but hey finally we get to see Bernardo moving centrally.

My line up:

Leão---CR7---André Silva----------
---------------Bernardo---------------
----------Nunes---Moutinho----------
Guerreiro--Fonte--Pepe--Cancelo

I've heard all about the discussions surrounding Ronaldo and if he should start or come off the bench. I'm looking at the World Cup and seeing this will be his last year with us. You've got to hand it to him for all the years of carrying Portugal on his back.. he deserves a grand send-off.

This is miles away from happening but the chemistry between him and André Silva has been proven, he fits much better in the system with this partnership. It may also work with Félix in my opinion.

Also would like to point out Diogo Jota sits on 9 goals in 23 appearances since joining the national team back in 2019. Within that time span Ronaldo has scored 21 goals in 29 appearances (excluding penalties). 72% vs. 39% conversion rate. In other words.. Jota is getting BLOWN out of the water by comparison.

Guedes or Leão - one of them has to start, the versatility they bring is so important. I opted for Leão since he prefers the left with Cancelo (our best attacking full back) returning to cause havoc on the right. Nunes/Sanches there we have another energy guy down the middle, Moutinho can do what he does best without being ripped on the counter. Andar Fernantos! I only speak because I care, while you get paid to roll the dice and smoke cigarettes.

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SupremoGino
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From your posting to Fernando Santos ears. I love having speed on the pitch. The day of a Rafael Leao, Sanches, Mendes and Joao Felix would be amazing to watch. I like your line up except for Moutinho. I know you are a fan of his but to me,...

From your posting to Fernando Santos ears. I love having speed on the pitch. The day of a Rafael Leao, Sanches, Mendes and Joao Felix would be amazing to watch. I like your line up except for Moutinho. I know you are a fan of his but to me, his days are over. Bruno Fernandes needs to step it up for the Seleccao.

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John Senos
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I think that Santos' plan prior to Neves getting injured was to have him start at the 6 , instead he used Moutinho as a replacement. I think a more offensive 6 who can pass and start seamless counterattacks is a must, I think Matheus Nunes could...

I think that Santos' plan prior to Neves getting injured was to have him start at the 6 , instead he used Moutinho as a replacement. I think a more offensive 6 who can pass and start seamless counterattacks is a must, I think Matheus Nunes could potentially play this role in a pinch. W. Carvalho, D .Pereira and Palhinha are all players that can and should make the squad , to be brought off the bench late in the game to protect a lead.

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Gee Dee
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Surely between nunes renato neves n palinha vitinha moutinho... there is ano need for william or danilo to come any where newr the squad or bring only one of them...

2 stiff men no skill and cant pass it very well...

my 11

gk not bothered i...

Surely between nunes renato neves n palinha vitinha moutinho... there is ano need for william or danilo to come any where newr the squad or bring only one of them...

2 stiff men no skill and cant pass it very well...

my 11

gk not bothered i was happpy with costa

cancelo/reciardo/dalot/cedric pepe dias mendes/rapha
neves/j.p/william
sanches/nunes
silva/neto/podence jota/guedes/leao
cr7/felix/silva


The squad is uneeal unreal golden generation ✨️

But we need ronaldo to stop been a spoilt little boy and we need the team to be bigger than ronaldo

forcaaaaaaaa

and we need to beat macadonia which wont be easy

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Tomas Sheehan
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The only bad thing you said is including Moutinho in that original group. Moutinho time has expired, should even be on the field. His instincts of always passing the ball back and doing a half-ass job of defending (yeah go look at Turkey's first...

The only bad thing you said is including Moutinho in that original group. Moutinho time has expired, should even be on the field. His instincts of always passing the ball back and doing a half-ass job of defending (yeah go look at Turkey's first goal), I would give him the last 10 minutes of the game just to keep you happy.

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Rodrigues Antonio
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It's 100% up to the players to step up and win this.on their own. It certainly won't be because of anything Santos does. I believe they will. Even for a wacky team like this it would be almost impossible to lose to a poor team like Macedonia and...

It's 100% up to the players to step up and win this.on their own. It certainly won't be because of anything Santos does. I believe they will. Even for a wacky team like this it would be almost impossible to lose to a poor team like Macedonia and yes I saw the game against Italy. Both teams were terrible and those that think this will be a very very difficult game are panick stricken pessimists. I predict an easy 4-0 win.

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joe
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When is Santos going to come up with some options for replacing Pepe and Fonte. If we do make it to the world cup we will have the oldest central defender of any team. Fonte was exposed in the last game because he runs like a sloth. We have Rubin...

When is Santos going to come up with some options for replacing Pepe and Fonte. If we do make it to the world cup we will have the oldest central defender of any team. Fonte was exposed in the last game because he runs like a sloth. We have Rubin Dias but he needs to introduce replacements for these old-timers as soon as possible. Maybe in the process, he can find a replacement for himself as well...

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ant-santos
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Portugal should in theory be able to break the NM defenses with that line up. Should they struggle, Santos could put in Sanches, Felix and Leao. I don't think NM would be able to handle that speed late on in the game with tired legs. Hopefully...

Portugal should in theory be able to break the NM defenses with that line up. Should they struggle, Santos could put in Sanches, Felix and Leao. I don't think NM would be able to handle that speed late on in the game with tired legs. Hopefully Portugal puts in 2-3 early goals so it doesn't need to resort to that though!

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Mike D
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Sanches isn't in this call up.

Paulo
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

A front 3 with Leão, André Silva, Guedes, would be more of a threat to NM than any other lineup WITH Ronaldo. Speed, muscle, headers, shooting versatilty…

————-—- Costa—————

Cancelo - Inacio - Pepe - Mendes

——Mateus———-Danilo——-

—————Bernardo...

A front 3 with Leão, André Silva, Guedes, would be more of a threat to NM than any other lineup WITH Ronaldo. Speed, muscle, headers, shooting versatilty…

————-—- Costa—————

Cancelo - Inacio - Pepe - Mendes

——Mateus———-Danilo——-

—————Bernardo—————

Guedes————————-Leão

———-——A.Silva——————

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Rolf Gerber
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Yes, we won, but watching Portugal play under Fernando Santos is like having your teeth pulled out. You feel like your going to squander leads and lose any minute. CR7 should have been taken off at 60 minutes. He passed more to the opposition...

Yes, we won, but watching Portugal play under Fernando Santos is like having your teeth pulled out. You feel like your going to squander leads and lose any minute. CR7 should have been taken off at 60 minutes. He passed more to the opposition than he did to his teammates. Jota worked hard and didn't luck out with netting a few goals. Again, I don't understand why Santos waits for the 80th minute to bring in fresh subs with the deep bench that he has at his disposal. WTF. He brings Leao and Carvalho at the 80th minute. Then he brings in Nunes and Felix at the 86 minute, but CR7 stays in the entire game. Winning is about Portugal, not helping CR7 increase his goal tally. He should be treated like any other player - if you not performing well in the game you get replaced. Rui Patricia is on the bench. Tired of watching players disrupt attacks to see where CR7 is. Hopefully, we avoid another group of death but I doubt it. If we do end up in a tough group, maybe Santos can develop a plan B and execute it at the 60-minute mark when things aren't going well, not at the 80-minute mark which he loves so much. I get the feeling he still thinks he is coaching Greece without a deep bench...

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ant-santos
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