Portugal, Poland qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup

 Cristiano Ronaldo & Bruno Fernandes
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo congratulates Bruno Fernandes on scoring their second goal . Photo: Reuters/Miguel Vidal

Portugal's Bruno Fernandes scored a clinical double as they beat stubborn visitors North Macedonia 2-0 to qualify for the World Cup finals in Qatar after a tense European play-off tie on Tuesday.

Roared on by 50,000 fans at a sold-out Dragao Stadium in Porto, Portugal dominated the game from the start but struggled to break down the strong North Macedonian defence, managing only three shots on target despite having almost 70 per cent possession.

Fernandes opened the scoring 30 minutes into the first half after intercepting a pass by his best friend, North Macedonia captain Stefan Ristovski, working a great one-two with Cristiano Ronaldo before whipping his shot past the goalkeeper.

The 27-year-old attacking midfielder sealed Portugal's win in the 65th minute, striking home a volley from a Diogo Jota cross.

Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes in action with North Macedonia's Visar Musliu. Photo: Reuters/Miguel Vidal

Fernando Santos's team then ran down the clock, celebrating at the final whistle with their joyful fans who remained in the stands for more than 15 minutes after the game, singing as the players completed a victory lap holding a huge Portugal flag.

"I don't care about individual accomplishments but this display will be one to remember because it helped my country to reach a World Cup," Fernandes told reporters.

Portugal, who won the 2016 European Championship in France and the 2019 UEFA Nations League at home, qualified for a sixth straight World Cup finals and have now not missed a major international competition in the last 20 years.

"I have already won two competitions and I hope I can win the third one in Qatar," coach Santos told a news conference.

"There was a spirit of mutual help and great support from the public. It was a deserved and fair win and qualification. I don't remember any great goalscoring situations for their team."

They were pushed into the playo-ffs after finishing second in Group A, having lost their final game at home to Serbia 2-1 last November.

That had left them needing to win two consecutive elimination games to qualify, with last week's win over Turkey, where they survived late drama, setting up a decider against North Macedonia, who had stunned Italy in their opening match.

It was a nervous occasion in Porto on Tuesday but Portugal dominated and avoided any surprises from the underdogs, who did not have a shot on target.

Poles edge Swedes

Poland's Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski fired second-half goals to book a place at the finals with a 2-0 win over Sweden in an electrifying play-off tie.

The Poles battled to contain a Sweden side bristling with youthful attacking vigour, but in the end experience told as Lewandowski and his teammates capitalised on mistakes.

Robert Lewandowski
Poland's Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

After a shaky opening, the Swedes quickly grew into the game and winger Emil Forsberg should have given them the lead but Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the first of a string of fine saves to turn the ball behind for a corner in the 19th minute.

The home side also struggled as Sweden winger Dejan Kulusevski twice went close before the playoff final turned on a clumsy mistake by Jesper Karlstroem.

The Swedish midfielder mistimed a challenge in the box early in the second half and ended up bundling Poland substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak to the ground, with Italian referee Daniele Orsato immediately pointing to the spot.

Up stepped Poland captain Lewandowski to send Robin Olsen the wrong way as he confidently struck his low spot kick into the net for his 75th international goal.

The Swedes threw caution to the wind and poured forward, with Szczesny getting down smartly to deny Forsberg again and Victor Lindelof sending the resulting corner just wide with a glancing header.

Just as the visitors looked to be on the verge of scoring, a mix-up between Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Danielson allowed Zielinski to score as he curled the ball into the net at the near post in the 73rd minute.

The Swedes brought their record scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench for the final 10 minutes but Szczesny and the Polish defence held firm in front of a capacity crowd to secure their country's spot at the World Cup.

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