Portugal boss Fernando Santos insists his side will qualify for the World Cup despite suffering a last-gasp defeat to Serbia that pushed them into the play-offs.
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 90th-minute header secured a stunning 2-1 victory for Serbia in Lisbon that meant they finished top of Group A and qualified automatically for Qatar 2022 at the expense of their stunned hosts.
Santos conceded his team struggled to get going and played with ”fear and anxiety”, though he took full responsibility for the defeat.
What was said?
The 2016 European champions only needed a draw to secure a place in Qatar and they looked well set when Renato Sanches put them in front after only two minutes.
Ajax playmaker Dusan Tadic levelled before half-time and that is how it remained until the closing stages, when substitute Mitrovic met Tadic’s cross and planted a downward header into the corner.
The goal sparked scenes of utter jubilation among the Serbia players and staff, with the substitutes running onto the pitch to celebrate with the rest of the side.
Those scenes were in sharp contrast to the Portugal players, who looked devastated as their place at the World Cup was snatched away from them in the final seconds.
Reflecting on the defeat, Santos said: “It looked like it was going to be, but it wasn't. We scored the goal, we had the initial moments. But then we started to drop deep a lot.
“The players tried. But then we didn't turn the game on. Every time we did, we created problems. But most of the time we couldn't.
"Serbia were better. We tried. Our DNA is to have the ball on our feet and play. Bernardo Silva wanted the ball, but he was the only one. We played with fear and anxiety. It's my responsibility."
When asked about the prospect of the play-offs, Santos added: “We'll be in Qatar. We know we didn't do what we should, but we'll be there.
“We've always played to win and think about the offensive moment. But it doesn't always turn out as we want. And it's my responsibility."
The bigger picture
The shock defeat means Portugal must now wait until March to find out their World Cup fate.
They will join nine other group runners up along with two of the highest ranked sides in the Nations League who haven’t already qualified for the World Cup.
The 12 teams will then be drawn into three play-off paths for one-off semi-finals and a final, with the three path winners qualifying for the World Cup.