It is hard to explain how Portugal allowed a two-goal lead to slip when they faced Serbia in a World Cup qualifying fixture. The Selecao are one of the most defensively disciplined teams but this was completely unlike them.
Fernando Santo’s side has rarely conceded more than a goal in games. Before Saturday’s match against Serbia, only once had they conceded more than two goals in a game since 2018.
However, Serbia rewrote the scripts by giving Portugal a run for their money. The Selecao raced to a 2-0 lead in the first half thanks to a double from Liverpool star Diogo Jota.
The second half, though, belonged to Serbia, who continued to probe until they drew level. Aleksandar Mitrovic pulled one back immediately after the restart before Filip Kostic sealed the comeback with a well-taken goal.
A frustrating day at the office
It was a frustrating game for the Selecao, who had earlier struggled against Azerbaijan in their opening group game. They had it going their way in the first half but were completely outplayed in the second half.
A late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo which was wrongly disallowed compounded Portugal’s misery.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner thought he had scored the winner with the last kick of the game but the referee ruled that the ball had not crossed the line.
Ronaldo’s frustration saw him throw away his captain’s armed band and stage a protest by walking off the pitch. He was later yellow-carded for his remonstrations.
“Being captain of the Portugal team is one of the greatest privileges of my life and fills me with pride,” Ronaldo wrote on Instagram after the game.
“I always give and will give everything for my country, that will never change. But there are difficult times to deal with, especially when we feel that an entire nation is being harmed.”
It would have been painful to see a legitimate goal disallowed and Portugal denied three points. All that culminated in what was a frustrating night for the Selecao.
Portugal’s sloppiness cost them
Ronaldo’s protests may have been justified but Portugal will have to look at themselves in the mirror. Santos’ side made a bright start to the game but failed to maintain the tempo.
They fizzled out as the game went on and completely stopped playing after the restart. This allowed Serbia to grow into the game, putting Portugal on the back foot.
When a team decides to sit back and invite pressure onto themselves, then it’s only a matter of time before their opponents make a breakthrough. And that is exactly what happened on Saturday.
After going 2-0 up in the first half, Portugal took their foot off the gas and were made to pay for their sloppiness. There are still many games to go in the qualifiers but Santos cannot allow a repeat of this performance to happen.
A third goal would have sealed the result against Serbia but, rather, Portugal have been left reeling from their inability to kill off the game.