Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo stormed the pitch seconds before the final whistle after being denied a clear winner in a controversial climax of their World Cup qualification against Serbia, who fought back with two goals to snatch a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
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Ronaldo was left angry in the downtime when his effort was cleared by Serbian defender Stefan Mitrovic after crossing the finish line, Dutch referee Danny Makkelie waving the game and with no VAR in place to review the decision.
Ronaldo threw his captain’s armband on the ground before leaving the pitch and heading for the tunnel seconds before the permanent whistle blast in a thrilling Group A qualifier.
A brace from Diogo Jota gave Portugal a 2-0 lead in the first half, but Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic became his country’s all-time top scorer with 39 goals in 63 international appearances after scoring. withdrawn one in the 46th minute.
The Serbs, who finished the game with 10 men, won a share of the booty when Filip Kostic leveled and Portugal’s misery was completed in downtime with Ronaldo also booked for dissent when his effort was denied .
“There are hard times to digest, especially when we feel like the whole nation is being punished,” Ronaldo said on Instagram. “We’ll hold our heads up high and move on to the next challenge.”
Seconds earlier, Serbian defender Nikola Milenkovic had been sent off after receiving a red card for a reckless challenge against Portuguese midfielder Danilo Pereira.
The result left both sides with four points in two matches, with Serbia edging the group ahead of Portugal in goals scored while Luxembourg are third with three points in one game after a shock 1-0 win over Ireland.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos accepted the result courteously, although he said it was unacceptable not to have VAR at this level of competition.
“The referee apologized to me right after the game and now we have to move on,” he said at a press conference.
“It was a clear goal, but there is nothing we can do now. We controlled the first half, but we lost our focus in the second and failed to contain Serbia as they progressed. . “
Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who made five changes to the squad that beat Ireland in their national team debut on Wednesday, was philosophical about the incident.
“I never comment on the decisions of the referees whether they go our way or not. The mistakes of the officials are part of the game and should be considered as such. I did not see it clearly, I can only render a verdict. after seeing it replay.
“Ronaldo is a great player, but we largely contained him tonight and in the second half we showed courage and character to strike back from two goals.
“We’ve always known what to expect from a top team like Portugal, but against such opposition you have to be brave and never give up. This group of players learn that quickly.”
Liverpool forward Jota sacked European champion Portugal with an 11th-minute header on a superb Bernardo Silva pass and added another in the 36th as he glanced at a cross from Cedric Soares from the right.
But Serbia returned to their Rajko Mitic stadium and half-time substitute Nemanja Radonjic, who designed their two goals, gave his scorers a roast after the break and also drew a nice save from the Portuguese goalkeeper. Anthony Lopes.
The result also marked a bittersweet milestone for Santos, who reached 1,000 games as a head coach at club and international level during his 33-year long career at the shelter.