90th-Minute Goal Sends Serbia To World Cup And Condemns Ronaldo’s Portugal To Playoffs

Portugal only needed a draw, but Aleksandar Mitrović stunned the Estádio da Luz with a late header.

LISBON - Serbia clinched an automatic berth in the 2022 World Cup finals after a 90th-minute header by halftime substitute Aleksandar Mitrović gave them a comeback 2-1 win over Portugal in their Group A qualifier on Sunday.

The result lifted Serbia into top spot on 20 points, three more than second-placed Portugal who only needed a draw to finish top on goal difference and qualify but will now head into the March playoffs.

Mitrović beat home goalkeeper Rui Patrício with a downward header at the far post to spark wild celebrations on Serbia's bench after visiting captain Dušan Tadić had cancelled out an early Renato Sanches opener for Portugal.

The home side made a dream start in the second minute after Bernardo Silva robbed Nemanja Gudelj of the ball in the danger zone and fed Sanches, who drove it past goalkeeper Predrag Rajković from 15 yards.

Unfazed by falling behind, the visitors came close when Dušan Vlahović, preferred to Mitrović as the lone striker, hit the post before Patrício gifted Serbia the equalizer. A seemingly innocuous raid ended with Tadić taking a deflected shot from 20 yards which glided over Patrício's fingertips over the line.

More poor goalkeeping presented Portugal with a gilt-edged chance to retake the lead on the stroke of halftime as Rajković spilled the ball, but João Moutinho's shot was blocked on the line by Nikola Milenković. Serbia coach Dragan Stojković threw Mitrović on for Gudelj and his gamble to deploy an extra forward for a defensive midfielder paid off as the Fulham striker, his country's all-time top scorer with 44 goals in 69 appearances, delivered.

It seemed Portugal would hang on after Mitrović headed inches wide in the 85th minute but the striker had the last laugh as he pulled away from his markers at the death to head home after Tadić's cross from the right. Mitrović said Serbia's confidence ahead of the game was vindicated by a bold performance.

"We came here to play football and having been the better side, we earned it all," he told Serbia's Nova television. "We are reaping the rewards of hard work and the belief that we would be able to defy the odds and beat Portugal. We are overjoyed, for our country and the people first and foremost."

Stojković added: "We deserved to win tonight as the lads showed so much character. This is a massive accomplishment for Serbian football. The team showed maturity and composure under the most intense pressure and I would have said the same thing if it had stayed 1-1 and we got confined to the playoffs."

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge)