Portugal’s World Cup hopes became a step closer to reality on Thursday night when they defeated Turkey 3-1, despite having to work hard for it.
The stakes were extremely high for Fernando Santos’ team, as they went into the match knowing that a loss would rule them out of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. More importantly, it would have meant Cristiano Ronaldo’s last appearance on the World Cup stage would have been in Russia four years ago.
Fear not, as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner assisted his country in advancing one step closer to the game’s most prestigious championship later this year. Ronaldo will be anxious to have all eyes on him in November, exactly the way he loves it. In the aftermath of a series of injuries that arrived at the worst possible moment for the Selecao, Portugal’s starting lineup, particularly their backline, was noticeably makeshift.
The danger of Turkey’s assault was comfortably handled by Danilo and Jose Fonte, but most of the action was generated by Portugal’s star-studded variety of forward players. Ronaldo has 115 goals in a career that has already seen him win the European Championship, but he is yet to add another as his hunt for an elusive World Cup continues.
The forward’s first glimpse of goal came inside the first ten minutes when Manchester United teammate Diogo Dalot found him in plenty of space just inside the opposing penalty area, but the 37-year-old misfired after striking it the first time. Just two minutes later, Liverpool’s Diogo Jota had a better chance, but he, too, failed to keep his effort from yards out underneath the crossbar.
Portugal’s pressure ultimately paid off when Otavio, a striker for Porto, was the first to react after Bernardo Silva’s shot hit the post, the 27-year-old completely at ease inside the Estádio do Dragao, his club’s stadium.
Soon after, they were forced to pay as Jota miraculously managed to catch Turkey goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir off guard while waiting for Bruno Fernandes’ cross to fall before guiding a powerful header beyond the shot-stopper at his near post.
Burak Yilmaz gave the Turkish team a boost with a neatly struck goal soon after the hour mark, cutting Portugal’s advantage to one goal with plenty of time left in the second half. Late in the game, after a VAR review of a Fonte tackle on Enes Unal, Yilmaz was given the opportunity to push the tie to extra time from the penalty spot.
The tension was obvious, and the outfielders of Portugal could only stand and hope. Their wishes were promptly answered, as Turkey’s talisman blazed his spot-kick over the bar and sealed his country’s destiny, much to the relief of the home supporters.
For much of the night, Ronaldo cut a disgruntled figure, but Turkey’s attempt to neutralize the threat he provided unwittingly enabled the likes of Jota, Fernandes, and Silva far too much freedom to operate. On two instances, Portugal’s captain lost his footing at critical moments.
Just one minute later, Matheus Nunes held his nerve to slot home, igniting wild celebrations within the stadium. When Ronaldo struck the crossbar immediately after his team’s third goal, he was left frustratedly chuckling to himself.
After defeating the Azzurri at the Renzo Barbera stadium, Portugal will face North Macedonia in the final on Tuesday, with a spot in Qatar on the line. At 37 years old, Ronaldo must be well aware that even a superhuman like him may find it difficult to be there when the next opportunity occurs by the age of 41.