Serbia fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Portugal in a high-octane World Cup Qualifier in Belgrade.
Portugal were looking to make it back-to-back wins in Group A on manager Fernando Santos’ 1000th game as a coach, but Diogo Jota’s two first-half headers were cancelled out by goals from record breaker Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic.
It looked as though Portugal were denied a last-gasp winner by the linesman in the final few seconds as Cristiano Ronaldo had a shot cleared off the line, but replays suggest the ball went over.
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Portugal’s first opportunity arrived to Ronaldo in the ninth minute, but after some good work from Bernardo Silva to tee up Portugal’s all-time top scorer at the near post, he smashed his first-time effort over the bar.
The visitors took the lead in the 12th minute when Silva’s inswinging cross from the right flank was met by Jota, who crept in at the far post to nod into the bottom corner.
Serbia failed to respond before the Liverpool forward’s second goal arrived in similar fashion. This time Cedric Soares provided the cross from the right which Jota met unmarked and steered it into the bottom corner past a statuesque Marko Dmitrovic in goal. Jota’s second header made it his fifth goal in just nine appearances for his country.
Serbia made two changes at the break and immediately the hosts pulled a goal back. Nemanja Radonjic’s first action in the game was a lofted cross from the right into the area for Mitrovic to nod in. It was Mitrovic’s 39th goal for his country to become the nation’s all-time record goalscorer.
Serbia then equalised on the hour-mark following a rapid, clinical counter-attack which began in their own box. Radonjic played an incisive pass into the path of Kostic who calmly slotted the ball past Lopes to leave the visitors shellshocked.
Portugal pushed on for a winner and there was late drama in the final few minutes. Serbia were reduced to ten men as Nikola Milenkovic was shown a harsh straight red for a crunching challenge on Danilo.
Then in the final few seconds, Ronaldo thought he had scored the winner, but his finish was apparently cleared off the line by Stefan Mitrovic according to the linesman. Ronaldo was subsequently booked for his protests.
It looked as though it went over. When the final whistle blew, Ronaldo stormed down the tunnel in disgust and threw his captain’s armband to the ground.
TALKING POINT – Did the ball cross the line?
Serbia did magnificently well to come back from two goals down, but the game will be remembered for the final seconds.
Photos and replays suggest Ronaldo was denied a winner with no VAR to turn to.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Nemanja Radonjic
Jota did score two goals and also had a fine performance, but Radonjic completely changed the complexion of the match in just one half.
Serbia looked down and out at the break but he energised Serbia’s attack and grabbed two excellent assists. His vision to set up Serbia’s equaliser in particular was highly commendable.
Serbia: Dmitrovic (6), Milenkovic (5), S Mitrovic (6), Pavlovic (6), Lazovic (5), Milinkovic-Savic (5), Gudelj (5), Kostic (7), Tadic (7), Vlahovic (5), A Mitrovic (7)
Subs: Radonjic (8), Maksimovic (6), Ristic (6), Djuricic (N/A), Jovic (N/A)
Portugal: Lopes (6), Cancelo (6), Dias (6), Fonte (5), Cedric (6), Fernandes (6), Oliveira (6), Danilo (6), Jota (8), Silva (7), Ronaldo (6)
Subs: Mendes (6), Sanches (6), Felix (N/A), Palhinha (N/A)
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