Porto, Portugal (AP) — There will be at least one more World Cup for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The all-time leading goalscorer in men’s international soccer will play in his fifth World Cup after Portugal defeated North Macedonia 2-0 in the European qualifiers playoffs on Tuesday.
“objective accomplished”, ronaldo said on instagram after the game. “we reached the world cup in qatar. we are where we deserve to be.”
This time there was no surprising late winner for North Macedonia to eliminate the traditional powerhouse as against European champions Italy last Thursday in Palermo.
bruno fernandes opened the scoring for the hosts after a pass from ronaldo in the first half and added another goal in the second to secure portugal’s place in the world cup for the sixth consecutive time.
“this is a special victory”, said fernandes. “We reached our goal, which was the important thing. Portugal has played better games, but this one will stay in our memory because he gave us a place in the world cup.”
There will be no first appearance in the final for North Macedonia, who were coming off their first appearance in a major tournament at the 2020 European Championships.
After escaping from the playoffs, Portugal will be a seeded team in Friday’s draw for the exhibition soccer event in November.
ronaldo, 37, will play his tenth consecutive major tournament in a streak that began at the 2004 euro cup. he has played in four world cups and five euro cups, winning the european title in 2016.
Ronaldo, the top scorer in men’s international football with 115 goals, is the only player to have scored at least once in the final of nine major tournaments in a row.
Ronaldo and the rest of the team gathered around a Portuguese flag in midfield as fans celebrated and sang the national anthem at the Estadio do Dragão in Porto.
“we are happy because the portuguese will see portugal in a world cup again”, said coach fernando santos. “The players showed that they were fully committed from the start and defeated a difficult opponent.”
portugal also needed to get through the 2010 and 2014 world cup qualifying playoffs, beating bosnia-herzegovina in 2010 and sweden in 2014.
had been relegated to the playoffs this time after conceding a late goal and giving up a home advantage in the last group match against serbia last year. In the first game of the playoffs last week, Portugal defeated Turkey 3-1 in Porto after the visitors squandered an 85th-minute penalty that could have erased a two-goal first-half lead.
“it would have been unfair if portugal didn’t reach the world cup”, said veteran defender pepe. “We showed our strength on the field to give this victory to our fans.”
ronaldo squandered portugal’s first good chance on a 14th-minute breakaway on tuesday, then set up a soft pass to his manchester united teammate for the opening goal after an error by the north macedonia defense at 32. fernandes entered the area and shot low to the far post, then added an advantage from close range after a pass from diogo jota at 65.
North Macedonia, which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, did not progress past the group stage at last year’s European Championship, losing all three of its matches. but as well as the shock 1-0 win against italy last week, they had also stunned with a win over germany last year in their european qualifying group, finishing second behind the germans and ahead of romania.
coach santos had some important returns to the squad on tuesday, with defenders pepe and joão cancelo playing from the start after missing the game against turkey. pepe had tested positive for covid-19, while cancelo was suspended.
failing to qualify for portugal could have meant the end of the line with the national team for coach santos and veteran players pepe, josé fonte and joão moutinho, who are 35 and older.
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