At the back end of the 2018-19 season, Portugal scraped past the Netherlands in front of a packed house at the Estadio do Dragao. Though the Portuguese didn’t produce their finest performance in the UEFA Nations League final that evening, they certainly ensured their trophy cabinet was stacked with another title.
The victory embodied the brand of football the Seleccao have portrayed under Fernando Santos: extravagant in patches, but always favouring efficiency whenever the shackles have gotten tighter.
And, that was a refreshing change, considering Portugal had previously been guilty of spurning wonderful opportunities (read Euro 2004) to add silverware to their collection despite boasting some of the most talented footballers across the globe.
Thus, many felt that the Seleccao had finally come off age as a footballing superpower and transformed into one of the elite international outfits on the planet.
However, in between the two continental triumphs, the Euro 2016 and the aforementioned Nations League, they’ve produced several patchy performances, including the two drab draws they’ve played out at home to Serbia and Ukraine in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Consequently, Santos’ charges find themselves languishing in 4th spot, with a meagre tally of two points.
Hence, Portugal are in real danger of not being able to directly qualify for the competition they’re slated to defend.
And, another layer of difficulty is added to their task with a trip to Belgrade on the 7th of September beckoning.
On most occasions, travelling to the Red Star Stadium as an away team is as daunting a challenge as any and with the Serbians sensing an opportunity to inflict further misery on Portugal, the assignment becomes a touch more arduous.
The hosts have several resourceful footballers in their ranks, each capable of turning the screw and tilting the game in their side’s favour.
The likes of Luka Jovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and the enigmatic Aleksandar Mitrovic would be hoping to ascend their team into the upper trenches of the group and thereby ensuring a relatively obstacle-free passage to the European Championships next year.
At this juncture, Serbia boast of 4 points from 3 games and a victory on Saturday could establish a considerable gap between them and Portugal.
Thus, the game has plenty riding on it and could well turn out to be crucial in determining where both nations end up post the culmination of the qualifying campaign.
Date: 7 September, 2019
Time: 08:45 pm (Local Time); 12:15 am IST on the 8th of September, 2019
Venue: Red Star Stadium
Where to watch: Sony Network
Form Guide (Last five matches; Most recent first)
Head to Head
Total Matches Played: 5 matches
Portugal: 2 wins
Serbia: 0 wins
Draw: 3 draws
Players to watch out for
Whenever a team comprising Cristiano Ronaldo takes the field, it is hard to look past the mercurial forward when talking about players to watch out for. However, for the first time in quite a while, a fellow Portuguese has been able to generate a buzz similar to what Ronaldo conjured when he was a teenager.
In the summer, Joao Felix moved to Atletico Madrid for a mouth-watering transfer fee as Diego Simeone looked to rebuild his side around the youngster. And the forward hasn’t disappointed so far.
Felix has been sensational for the Spanish side and has taken to the La Liga like a duck to water.
His exceptional balance and mazy dribbling have earned rave reviews and those attributes could come to the fore on Saturday too.
Over the past few games, the Portuguese side has been accused of lacking a bit of imagination. However, the presence of Felix could extinguish that criticism with the forward capable of providing the spark Portugal have been craving.
The Serbian forward secured a big-money move to Real Madrid in the summer after his exploits for Eintracht Frankfurt last term, in which he scored 27 times across the Bundesliga and the Europa League.
However, akin to many footballers before him, he has found the early going slightly tough at Madrid. A combination of injuries and teething problems have meant that he has managed only 99 minutes in the La Liga so far.
Moreover, the presence of Karim Benzema has amped up the pressure on Jovic, reducing the Serbian to a peripheral role.
Yet, with the national side, the forward is the talisman and one reckons that he might enjoy the extra responsibility.
Thus, Jovic would be looking to strengthen his credentials when Portugal come calling on Saturday. In the process, he would also be hoping to remind the world what he is capable of, especially considering the murmurs doing the rounds about his transfer fee.
And while those could be termed as naïve, in light of the season being in its formative stages, Jovic wouldn’t want to allow his doubters an opportunity to pass baseless and unfounded judgements.
Serbia win: 3.30
Portugal win: 2.10