North MacedoniaFIFA World CupVS
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We were expecting a Portugal-Italy showdown for a place in the 2022 World Cup, but North Macedonia had other ideas and stunned the footballing world with a dramatic 1-0 win in Palermo on Thursday night.
A 3-1 victory for the Portuguese over Turkey looks like a comfortable result on paper, but they too had to ride their luck on their way to a win that leaves them 90 minutes from Qatar.
But having picked up the scalps of both Italy and Germany to get to this stage, North Macedonia certainly won’t fear a trip to Porto to face a home side that have made a bit of a mess of home games recently.
Continue reading for our full match preview and expert football betting tips.
One thing that can be said about North Macedonia is that they know how to keep themselves in games. Italy had a barrage of openings, but the visitors did well to limit the Azzurri to just a small handful of guilt-edged chances.
And their away form heading into this one is very good. North Macedonia have won their last three on the road and scored ten goals in that time. To add the cherry on the cake, they’ve kept clean sheets in all of those games.
It’s likely to be a similar brief against Portugal as the away side look to sit in and frustrate the hosts, but as an attacking force, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co represent a much sterner test than what is hardly a world-beating Italian frontline.
As much as we would love a fairytale, we just think A Selecao will squeeze their way past this stubborn North Macedonia side. So, our selection for this one is a Portugal Win and Under 2.5 goals at 9/5 (bet365) as well with all the major sports betting sites.
Portugal have a tendency to make life difficult for themselves and no more so than in their clash with Turkey last Thursday.
They were 2-0 up and cruising after goals from Otavio and Diogo Jota, but a second half rally from the visitors saw them get a goal back before earning a penalty via VAR.
Burak Yilmaz blazed the spot kick over the bar before Portugal went on to seal the win in added time. This, of course, came after a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Serbia in November that dumped Portugal into the play-offs.
That said, their home record is generally very good. Portugal’s only two other defeats on home soil in the last four years came against Germany and France, so they have a decent knack for coming through the sort of test that North Macedonia will pose here.
The only absentee from the side is veteran defender Pepe, who withdrew from the squad after testing positive for COVID-19.
What a night it was for North Macedonia on Thursday.
They had to soak up plenty of Italian pressure, but they weren’t afraid to venture out the trenches and have a go. This is a side that are used to playing the role of underdog and they appear to thrive on it.
Their only away defeat in World Cup qualifying came in their first game at Romania, and since then, four wins and a draw have followed in what has been a superb display of form at both ends of the pitch, with goals flowing and their defensive line showing superb grit.
You can’t disregard their chances of winning this one, having defied the odds on several occasions already in the last few years, but their win in Italy will have taken a lot out of them and another tough away day could well catch up with them.
Veteran striker Adis Jahovic pulled out of the squad with an injury in midweek, so will sit out of this one. That aside, North Macedonia have no further injury concerns.
This will be just the third meeting between the two sides. Portugal have a slender 1-0 win under their belts, coming all the way back in 2003, while their most recent meeting a decade ago ended 0-0.
This crucial World Cup clash takes place at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, home of, funnily enough, FC Porto.
Portugal haven’t lost here since 2004, although fans will remember it well as Greece secured a shock victory in the opening game of Euro 2004, on their way to winning the tournament.
Portugal have won eight and drawn three of their eleven games at the stadium since then.
In a one-off game, anything can happen, but with Portugal having so many quality options up front we think they will just get the better of a dogged North Macedonia side.
It’s unlikely to be pretty, and we’re expecting the visitors to contain the hosts for large periods, but after Italy were dumped out of the play-offs, it feels like it is written in the stars for Cristiano Ronaldo to confirm his place at one more World Cup.