Portugal got the better of Serbia 4-2 in a tense encounter at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade.
The game was a slow-burner and didn’t burst into life until the later stages of the opening half. However, the visitors drew first blood in the 42nd minute when William Carvalho bundled in a loose ball.
Goncalo Guedes increased Portugal’s lead in the 58th minute with an impressive left-footed finish. But, Serbia quickly halved the deficit ten minutes later through Nikola Milenkovic.
Portugal though, restored their two-goal cushion ten minutes from time when Cristiano Ronaldo popped up in the penalty area to apply the finishing touches to a sumptuous Bernardo Silva through-ball.
Aleksandar Mitrovic pegged the away side back a touch with a net-bulger in the 85th minute but Bernardo put the result beyond doubt a minute later with a goal of his own.
Here is a look at the talking points from the game:
#5 Portugal and Serbia produce an astonishingly dour first half
Portugal and Serbia came into the game having scored a solitary goal in 2 games and 5 goals in 3 games, respectively. Thus, it wasn’t much of a surprise when both teams contrived to produce a dull display of football in the opening 45 minutes. However, the lack of adventure and quality both sides showcased was quite alarming.
The visitors’ passing looked pedestrian for a major chunk of the half and that disabled them from imposing themselves on the game. The midfield looked quite static with Danilo guilty of slowing down the play on numerous occasions. Additionally, Bruno Fernandes played an extremely withdrawn role, which reduced his creative edge significantly.
Also, Bernardo and Guedes’ propensity to come in-field coupled with Nelson Semedo and Raphael Guerreiro’s cautious offensive play led to Portugal being rid of the width that usually carves teams open.
As for Serbia, the home side predominantly tried to use Mitrovic as a target man, launching aerial balls from deep and hoping for the striker to fend off defenders and bring his teammates into play.
However, those long balls were usually off the mark with the former Newcastle striker reduced to feeding off scraps.
The hosts did find themselves in a few promising positions in the half though. Yet, on most of those occasions, they lacked the conviction and the decisiveness to pick the right pass.
Moreover, both sides adopted a rugged approach, thereby disrupting the flow of the game and increasing the number of fouls. While Portugal committed 9 of those, Serbia indulged in 6 offences.
Thus, it was fitting that the only goal of the half arrived via a scrappy avenue.
After Fernandes whipped the ball into the box, the Serbian goalkeeper and Nikola Milenkovic made a hash of the clearance. The indecision meant that the ball fell kindly to Carvalho, who pounced on the opportunity to hand Portugal the lead.
Over the past couple of years, neither Portugal nor Serbia has set the world ablaze with its attacking displays. To put things into perspective, both nations have favoured calculation over creativity.
Yet, not many would’ve expected them to come up with such a drab first half display.