Fernando Santos’ side went on an impressive run of five wins in all competitions, with crucial victories against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg propelling them to the top of their group in the World Cup qualifiers.
Despite their rich vein of form, though, Portugal were given a reality check on Thursday following a dull, goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland. The Selecao have scored goals for fun in recent matches but they simply did not come to the party against Ireland and, therefore, cannot complain much about the result.
Portugal held by Ireland
Portugal boss Fernando Santos went into the game with an eye on the team's final group match against Serbia, which clearly influenced his squad selection.
The 67-year-old left out Joao Cancelo, Diogo Jota, Renato Sanches, Ruben Dias and Jose Fonte, knowing very well that these players were one yellow card away from a suspension. While the decision made sense, it denied Portugal some of their best players and the team struggled to create chances for much of the game.
The Selecao ended the game with just two shots on target while Ireland were more threatening in attack. This was certainly one of Portugal’s worst performances in recent months and they didn’t deserve to win.
Selecao need to improve before decider against Serbia
Portugal need just a point from their last group game against Serbia to qualify for the World Cup and, fortunately, Santos can pick all his best players for that match.
However, if their performance against Ireland was anything to go by, then the Selecao will need to massively improve in order to win that game. Santos said after his side’s stalemate with Ireland, as quoted by the Independent:
“At this moment, the Serbian team has to play in our stadium to win the game. I’m convinced we’re going to be at the World Cup. In terms of defensive organisation, we allowed a lot of space. We had a hard time dealing with the game. They [Ireland] were always very fast and they diminished our ability to hold the ball. We could have done better.”
Portugal currently have one foot in Qatar but they will first have to finish what they started on Sunday. It won’t be an easy task but the Selecao certainly have the quality to seal qualification.