Four teams which previously sat on the top of their group, Portugal, Italy, Russia and Sweden have to go down and fight for the remaining berths in the playoffs after failing to secure maximum points in the last two fixtures in the qualifiers this week.
Seleccao de Quinas wasted their chance to directly qualify to Qatar next year after they shockingly were unable to clinch at least four points to advance in the last two games. After only mustering a goalless draw against Ireland last week, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co were even defeated 1-2 by Serbia at their home turf. Renato Sanches had already lifted their hope after scoring the opener. Yet, Ajax man Dusan Tadic managed to equalise through his strike which Rui Patricio failed to deny. The horror came on the last minutes as Fulham forward Alexander Mutrovic headed home to give Serbs the necessary victory to automatically fly to Qatar next year.
Portugal vs Serbia 1-2
Goals: Renato Sanches (2); Dusan Tadic (33), Alexander Mitrovic (90)
Portugal: Rui Patricio – Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Jose Fonte, Mendes – Joao Moutinho (Joao Palhinha 64), Danilo Pererira (Andre Silva 91), Renato Sanches (Ruben Neves 84) – Bernardo Silva (Bruno Fernandes 84), Diogo Jota (Joao Felix 83), Cristiano Ronaldo.
Serbia: Rajkovic – Pavlovic, Milenkovic, Milos Veljkovic (Uros Spajic 65) – Nemanja Guldej ( Alexander Mitrovic 46), Sergei Milenkovic-Savic, Filip Kostic (Luka Jovic 89), Zivkovic (Nemanja Randojic 69), Lukic – Dusan Tadic, Dusan Vlahovic
Portugal's misfortune was surprisingly followed by three other top teams which were previously the favorite to secure the berths directly. The European Champions, Italy were held by Northern Ireland in a goalless draw. It was their second ties in two weeks which cost their place on the top of the table. Russia suffered a 0-1 loss from Croatia while traveling to Split, whereas Sweden were unable to capitalise two expected wins too. After being stunned by Georgia last week, this time Janne Anderson's men were beaten 0-1 by their rival, Spain. Alvaro Morata bagged their winning goal.
Their road to world cup final round will be quite intriguing as the playoffs system would be like the one in Euro 2020. There will be three paths for three remaining berths. Each path consists of four teams which are drawn in two semifinals and each of the winners will go through the final to battle for one ticket to Qatar.
Those four sides are joining the other six group runners-up, Ukraine, Turkey, Scotland, Wales, Poland, North Macedonia, plus two best ranked teams from Nations League which only finished below third in the qualifiers. Austria and Czech Republic have the luxury for the opportunity to keep their hope to play in Qatar alive. They will be seeded in the European world cup playoffs paths on December 26.