World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Bernardo Silva apologised to Portugal fans following a dramatic 2-1 loss to Serbia in Lisbon on Sunday that left the Selecao facing a World Cup qualifying play-off.

Portugal only needed to avoid defeat in order to finish top of Group A and secure an automatic qualifying spot for the tournament in Qatar next year.

Renato Sanches' early strike put the hosts in the lead, but Dusan Tadic levelled and Aleksandar Mitrovic headed in a 90th-minute winner to seal sensationally seal Serbia's World Cup spot.

Manchester City midfielder Silva pulled no punches with his verdict on Portugal's performance.

"[It was a] terrible game for Portugal," Silva told O Jogo. "We managed to score the goal early, but then we stopped playing. Words fail me. We have to do more than we did today.

"We have a play-off, where we'll give our best. At home, with 65,000 people we had to do better. I want to apologise because they came to see a game they shouldn't have seen.

"The plan was to try to win the game. To have the ball. Something that didn't happen in any moment of the game. That at home and with the quality of our players is unacceptable. We have to see what failed and try to improve from there on."

Joao Palhinha agreed with Silva's assessment of the team's negative performance, but insisted they are good enough to qualify for the World Cup.

"We are here to take responsibility," Palhinha told RTP. "We didn't play a good game, we just defended in the second half and Serbia ended up having happiness in the final minutes, but [qualification is] still within our reach.

"Serbia played a good game, but we had the capacity and level to be superior. We are very sad, the dressing room is on the wane for not having achieved the direct qualification, but we have to go chasing them in the next games, because we have more than value to be in the World Cup.

"Life is not a constant of victories, all people who are successful in life go through difficulties and this feeling has to give us more strength."

Aleksandar Mitrovic's late winner saw Serbia seal their spot at the 2022 World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Portugal in Lisbon.

Portugal went ahead after just two minutes as Bernardo Silva capitalised on a defensive error to set up Renato Sanches, who opened the scoring with an unerring finish. 

Dusan Tadic's deflected strike levelled the scores later in the first half, with Rui Patricio partially culpable for allowing the ball to cross the line.

Substitute Mitrovic completed a dramatic turnaround in the 90th minute as he headed in from Tadic's cross to send Serbia top of Group A and condemn Portugal to the playoffs.

Portugal enjoyed a dream start as Silva dispossessed Nemanja Gudelj before finding Sanches, who advanced into the area and rifled past Predrag Rajkovic.

Dusan Vlahovic thought he had equalised 10 minutes later as he struck towards the bottom-right corner, but his left-footed effort bounced off the post and away from danger.

Serbia did draw level in the 33rd minute when Tadic's fierce strike from the edge of the area took a deflection, causing Patricio to fumble into his own net.

The hosts came within inches of reclaiming the lead after the interval as Sanches' blocked effort was cleared against Rajkovic's back and rolled just wide.

Serbia appeared surprisingly conservative in the second half but Mitrovic, who headed wide only minutes before, grabbed a dramatic winner with just a minute remaining of normal time as he nodded in at the back post from Tadic's cross to ensure his country's place at the World Cup.

Aleksandar Mitrovic's late winner saw Serbia seal their spot at the 2022 World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Portugal in Lisbon.

Portugal went ahead after just two minutes as Bernardo Silva capitalised on a defensive error to set up Renato Sanches, who opened the scoring with an unerring finish. 

Dusan Tadic's deflected strike levelled the scores later in the first half, with Rui Patricio partially culpable for allowing the ball to cross the line.

Substitute Mitrovic completed a dramatic turnaround in the 90th minute as he headed in from Tadic's cross to send Serbia top of Group A and condemn Portugal to the playoffs.

Portugal enjoyed a dream start as Silva dispossessed Nemanja Gudelj before finding Sanches, who advanced into the area and rifled past Predrag Rajkovic.

Dusan Vlahovic thought he had equalised 10 minutes later as he struck towards the bottom-right corner, but his left-footed effort bounced off the post and away from danger.

Serbia did draw level in the 33rd minute when Tadic's fierce strike from the edge of the area took a deflection, causing Patricio to fumble into his own net.

The hosts came within inches of reclaiming the lead after the interval as Sanches' blocked effort was cleared against Rajkovic's back and rolled just wide.

Serbia appeared surprisingly conservative in the second half but Mitrovic, who headed wide only minutes before, grabbed a dramatic winner with just a minute remaining of normal time as he nodded in at the back post from Tadic's cross to ensure his country's place at the World Cup.

Aleksandar Mitrovic's late winner saw Serbia seal their spot at the 2022 World Cup with a 2-1 win over Portugal in Lisbon.

Portugal went ahead after just two minutes as Bernardo Silva capitalised on a defensive error to set up Renato Sanches, who opened the scoring with an unerring finish. 

Dusan Tadic's deflected strike levelled the scores later in the first half, with Rui Patricio partially culpable for allowing the ball to cross the line.

Substitute Mitrovic completed a dramatic turnaround in the 90th minute as he headed in from Tadic's cross to send Serbia top of Group A and condemn Portugal to the playoffs.

Spain qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after a tense 1-0 victory over Sweden that was secured by Alvaro Morata's late winner.

Sweden needed to win in Seville on Sunday to top Group B but will go into the play-offs instead after Luis Enrique's home side saw out a nervy final match of their qualifying campaign to clinch the automatic spot.

Emil Forsberg had two clear-cut goalscoring opportunities for Sweden at the Estadio La Cartuja but was unable to test Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

Morata gave Spain victory with a close-range strike on the rebound with four minutes of the game left after Dani Olmo had seen his effort hit the crossbar.

The Netherlands will have to do without the injured Stefan de Vrij when they face Norway in a decisive World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

De Vrij suffered a hamstring injury in the closing stages of the Oranje's 2-2 away to Montenegro on Saturday and was replaced by Matthijs de Ligt.

The Inter centre-back has now been ruled out of the Netherlands' final Group G game against third-placed Norway at De Kuip, so De Ligt is set to starting alongside captain Virgil van Dijk.

Coach Louis van Gaal has not called up a replacement for De Vrij.

The Netherlands lead Norway and Turkey – who are away to Montenegro on Tuesday – by two points, and a draw should be enough for them to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year due to their far superior goal difference.

It appeared to be mission accomplished for the group leaders when Memphis Depay's double put them in control at Podgorica City Stadium, but late goals from Ilija Vukotic and Nikola Vujnovic prevented them from getting the job done.

The Netherlands will not have the backing of a partisan crowd against Norway, as the game in Rotterdam will be played behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

Germany head coach Hansi Flick was pleased with his team’s 4-1 win in Armenia as they brought a successful World Cup qualification campaign to an end on Sunday.

Goals from Kai Havertz, Jonas Hofmann and a brace from Ilkay Gundogan saw the Germans home in Yerevan. The victory means that Flick has won all of his first seven games in charge of Die Mannschaft, scoring 31 times and conceding just twice.

It is also their joint-longest winning run this century (also seven in 2017). The last time Germany had a longer winning run was across 1979 and 1980, when they managed 12 in a row.

They finish their World Cup qualifying campaign top of Group J having won nine of their ten games, a comfortable nine points ahead of North Macedonia in second.

"We won 4-1 and achieved our aim of ending the group on 27 points," Flick said after the game. "It wasn't all brilliant, but the way we try to play football is great. You can see that the team always wants to attack and create chances.

"We defend high up the pitch and then allow them a few opportunities on the break, though that's just normal. We know what we need to improve on; we've got time for that.

"I'm satisfied with the team. We've won seven games together now, so I can only congratulate them. It's great as the coach to see the team enjoying themselves so much."

Thomas Muller was also pleased with the win, emphasising the importance of getting off to a good start in a "new era" for the national side.

"I think that was a good performance from us overall," the Bayern Munich attacker said. "It wasn't a goal-fest like against Liechtenstein, but we got the job done well. The first goal was important for us and was really well-made. We were concentrated and committed. It's a good way to finish off the campaign.

"A new era began in September for the first time since 2006. You can see that we've played well over the last three months and we want to continue doing so. It doesn't matter who is on the pitch, everyone will give their all and do their job.

"We may not have played any big teams, but we have performed really well at times. We can go into next year with a positive mindset now. We're happy."

Roberto Mancini insisted Italy must not forget what they have achieved recently as his side prepare for a crunch clash with Northern Ireland.

The Euro 2020 winners sit above Switzerland in World Cup qualifying Group C on goal difference alone, with both teams currently on 15 points after a 1-1 draw between the pair on Friday.

With only the team that finishes top progressing, slipping to second place would see Italy condemned to the play-offs as the Azzurri flirt with missing the World Cup for the second time in a row.

However, as Italy prepare for their final game with Northern Ireland – who are in third with eight points – Mancini implored his team to remember what they have achieved so far, having previously embarked on a world-record 37 matches without defeat.

"We mustn’t think negative thoughts," Mancini said at Sunday's pre-match news conference. "We know it’s an important match, we’ll go there aiming to win and know that Northern Ireland are difficult to beat here.

"If we do miss out, then we’ve got the opportunity of a make-up exam in March, but we want to go through tomorrow and that is what we must focus on.

"Nobody believed in us when we started this journey three years ago and we know there have been difficult moments along the way. It’s a delicate match tomorrow, but the lads mustn’t forget everything they have achieved already.

"They mustn’t feel so much anxiety, they have to play with freedom and concentrate on what needs to be done."

Italy, however, are by no means a certainty to cruise past Northern Ireland, given the Azzurri have never won in Belfast.

Indeed, a 2-1 loss in 1958 saw Italy miss out on the World Cup that year and Mancini appreciates the difficult task that awaits his team at Windsor Park.

"I don’t go back that far, but I do know the history," Mancini responded when asked about Italy's previous record in Belfast.

"It’s not an issue of scoring many goals, it’s about playing the game. Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal yet at Windsor Park in this group and there must be a reason for that.

"We have to win and if we score lots of goals that’s even better. We certainly won’t go for high balls into the box, as Northern Ireland are rather tall and that’s their bread and butter.

"We must try to play the ball quickly to feet, what we’ve been doing for the last three years, really.

"All the teams have injuries at the moment, but we remain a strong squad and will aim to get a positive result."

Ilkay Gundogan struck twice as Germany rounded off a dominant World Cup qualifying campaign with a 4-1 win in Armenia on Sunday. 

Kai Havertz and Jonas Hofmann were also on target for Die Mannschaft at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, with the hosts replying through a consolation penalty from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Head coach Hansi Flick made six changes from the team that thrashed Liechtenstein 9-0 on Thursday, but Germany looked strong again, easing past the side bossed by Joaquin Caparros.

The win was a ninth from 10 qualifying matches for Germany and means they finish nine points clear of second-placed North Macedonia in Group J.

Germany took the lead after 15 minutes when Hofmann played a quick one-two with Thomas Muller before crossing from the right for Havertz to steer home.

The visitors had a penalty in first-half stoppage time when a VAR review led to the verdict that Florian Neuhaus had been fouled by Taron Voskanyan in the box, and Gundogan converted with ease.

The Manchester City midfielder had his second goal five minutes into the second half when his shot from the edge of the penalty area inexplicably slipped through the grasp of Stanislav Buchnev.

Armenia captain Mkhitaryan pulled a goal back from the spot after Neuhaus fouled David Terteryan in the box just before the hour, but a mistake from Mkhitaryan allowed Hofmann to intercept and race through to restore Germany's three-goal cushion in the 64th minute.

 

A remarkable 81st-minute Russia own goal on a waterlogged pitch in Split gifted Croatia the 1-0 win they needed to top Group H and qualify for the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

Russia led the pool coming into the decisive clash after a run of five straight victories, although they showed little ambition of making that six by beating Croatia for the first time in six meetings.

Seemingly happy instead to sit on a goalless draw that would keep them on course for Qatar, the visitors sought to rely on a defensive record that saw them concede just once in their winning run.

That approach looked to have paid off with the game entering the final 10 minutes and Croatia short of ideas, only for an inadvertent intervention from a Russia defender to turn the situation on its head.

A hopeful Croatia cross from the left skidded through a sodden penalty area and bounced off the knees of left-back Fedor Kudryashov, squirming beyond goalkeeper Matvey Safonov into the bottom-right corner.

Incredibly, that was the first goal in four matches between the sides in qualifying for the European Championship and World Cup.

Russia, who had attempted only one shot to Croatia's 19 up to that point, suddenly scrambled forward in search of an equaliser, but the 2018 finalists clung on, condemning their opponents – hosts of the last finals – to the play-offs.

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