They sent shockwaves around the world of football last week by dumping Italy out of World Cup qualifying and now, Portugal are in North Macedonia’s sights.
🤩 Can North Macedonia make their dreams come true?
🇵🇹Portugal 🆚 North Macedonia 🇲🇰#WCQ | #WorldCup | @UEFA pic.twitter.com/rI5PgFmGaq
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) March 29, 2022
The two sides meet at Lisbon’s Estadio do Dragao on Tuesday night with the European minnows looking to bring the curtain down on the hopes of another heavyweight and reach Qatar 2022 themselves.
But can they really spring another upset and, quite possibly, end Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of playing in one final World Cup?
Well, you’d imagine so, wouldn’t you? You think of Portugal and you think of Cristiano Ronaldo but there are an array of attackers beyond him that make them such a force.
Liverpool’s Diogo Jota is in the form of his life, Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes would get into most teams – international and club level – and Bernardo Silva has been back to his very best at Manchester City this season.
🇲🇰 EZDJAN ALIOSKI on Cristiano Ronaldo (North Macedonia defender):
"He has been playing at a high level for almost 20 years. Naturally, he has the goal of going to the World Cup. We don't want to spoil his life, but we want to make our dream come true." pic.twitter.com/2xMZNG5wRY
— The CR7 Timeline. (@TimelineCR7) March 28, 2022
In defence, the 39-year-old Pepe has recovered from Covid after missing last week’s 3-1 win over Turkey and will return at the heart of the defence. Joao Cancelo is back too, after being suspended.
It makes a starting line-up that, one would imagine, is just too strong for North Macedonia.
But you just can’t rule anything out with this team. Yes, they’re riding the crest of a wave after defeating Euro 2020 holders Italy but they’ve made it this far because they’re a decent side.
They won 2-1 away to Germany in March last year on their way to a second-place finish in qualifying. That, combined with their win over Italy, provides more than enough belief in their ability to frustrate the major sides in the international fold.
They’ve only played Portugal twice before in their history, the most recent of which was 10 years ago in a friendly. The match finished 0-0 and Cristiano Ronaldo started for Portugal that day.
NORTH MACEDONIA!!! ONE OF THE GREAT UPSETS OF ALL TIME 🤯
AS IT STANDS, ITALY ARE OUT OF THE WORLD CUP! pic.twitter.com/DBRBcUhZC5
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 24, 2022
They are a stubborn team who are good at riding out prolonged periods of pressure – as they showed against Italy, who enjoyed numerous periods of dominance in Thursday’s game but were unable to make it pay off.
Forward Aleksandar Trajkovski was the man who crushed Italy’s World Cup hopes with his excellent low strike from long range in stoppage time last Thursday. He has scored 20 goals in 75 appearances for his country.
As a teenager, Trajkovski was on the books at Chelsea and currently plies his trade with Saudi Arabian side Al-Fayha.
Ezgjan Alioski is a familiar name to fans watching Tuesday’s match from the UK – the full-back was a Leeds United player for four years before joining Al-Alhi in Saudi Arabia last year.
Napoli midfielder Elif Elmas is another one to watch. The 22-year-old urged his team to make the most of the opportunity in front of them this week, saying: ‘Frankly this might be one of the most difficult and most exciting matches for all of us.
North Macedonia beat European Champions Italy and now Portugal will have to beat this super team to go to the World Cup
Cristiano Ronaldo has never had it easy pic.twitter.com/KgsVKEzfo2
— CR7 Rap Rhymes (@cr7raprhymes) March 24, 2022
‘We have 90 minutes to fulfil our childhood dream, not only ours, but of the whole country.
‘Simply, we have to know that we can’t miss this chance and we have to burn on the pitch in order to get to Qatar.’
Portugal boss Fernando Santos was effusive in his praise for North Macedonia after their statement win over Italy.
‘We need to show the same respect to North Macedonia that we would to Italy,’ Santos said. ‘I told you before we could be playing them, those games are not a joke, it’s like a final and anything can happen.
‘You have to face it with the focus and concentration that it deserves. A team that goes to Italy and beats the European champions doesn’t need introductions.’
Blagoja Milevski, the North Macedonia coach, was bullish on his side’s chances.
‘We won against one of the best teams in the world,’ he said. ‘We won’t stop here.
‘We have one last step to get to the World Cup. We are well on our way to confirming why we are among the top 20 teams in Europe.’
Courtesy: Daily Mail UK