Path cleared for Cristiano Ronaldo’s participation in World Cup, but can Portugal capitalise on Italy’s slip?

Portugal dug deep and held off Turkey’s inspired second-half fightback to advance to the World Cup playoff final. First-half goals from Otavio and Diogo Jota put the home side in cruise control at the Estadio do Dragão. However, Burak Yilmaz reduced the deficit with 25 minutes remaining to give the visitors a chance to make a comeback, and they had the opportunity to equalize with a late penalty. But goalscorer Yilmaz fired over the crossbar from the penalty spot before Mathias Nunes added a third in stoppage time to help Portugal move a step closer to World Cup qualification.

Their reward for the hard-earned victory is a final clash against North Macedonia. On paper, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led side should easily win this match. But that’s not how football works, and European champions Italy would agree with that notion. The mighty Italians were expected to overcome North Macedonia in the playoff semi-finals.

But what happened on Thursday night was beyond comprehension. Aleksandar Trajkovski upset the reigning European champions with a superb goal in the second minute of stoppage time. This meant that Italy would miss out on participating in the World Cup for the second time in a row.

READ MORE – Italy v North Macedonia: ‘It hurts a lot,’ says Azzurri midfielder Jorginho

North Macedonia heavily favored by Portugal and Ronaldo

When the playoffs were drawn, the prospect of Portugal and Italy competing on the same side of the draw for a place in the Qatar World Cup piqued everyone’s interest. Had both the European heavyweights won their respective matches, the playoff final would have been between the two. Thus, either Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best football player in the world, or the defending European champions would have missed out on the opportunity to play in the showpiece event later this year.

Both sets of fans were worried for obvious reasons. Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and a second successive tournament exit would have been a nightmare for the four-time world champions.

On the other hand, if Portugal fails to qualify, the world will be deprived of one of the greatest players in history at the World Cup. The number of fans of Cristiano Ronaldo is very high all over the world. Not only are Manchester United and Portugal fans supporting him, but most of the world would like to see him at the football spectacle later this year. Ronaldo is currently 37 years old, and it is unclear whether he will be available to play in the next World Cup four years from now. As a result, this could be the veteran player’s last appearance at the global showpiece event.

As it turns out, Ronaldo fans can still watch their idol play in the Middle Eastern country, thanks to North Macedonia’s upset win on Thursday night. However, it won’t be a straightforward affair when they face Portugal on Tuesday. Having said that, any Portuguese fan would prefer to face North Macedonia instead of Italy in the playoff final. It is now up to the Portugal national team to complete the formalities and give Cristiano Ronaldo another shot at World Cup glory.

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