Fernandes stars for Portugal and Lewandowski strikes for Poland as World Cup spots booked

North Macedonia and Sweden bowed out.

Portugal and Poland are heading to the World Cup.
Portugal and Poland are heading to the World Cup.
Image: PA

BRUNO FERNANDES FIRED Portugal to the 2022 World Cup by scoring twice in a 2-0 victory over Italy’s conquerors North Macedonia on Tuesday.

Italy’s shock exit had North Macedonia dreaming of their first ever appearance at a World Cup finals but Portugal and Fernandes proved a step too far in Porto.

Fernandes eased Portuguese nerves at the Estadio do Dragao by finishing off Cristiano Ronaldo’s pass in the first half and then made the win more comfortable in the second, latching onto an inch-perfect cross from the excellent Diogo Jota.

The victory means Portugal extend their run of qualifying for six out of six World Cups since the turn of the century while Ronaldo is on course for his fifth, aged 37.

The striker’s best previous result was reaching the semi-finals in 2006, when Portugal were beaten by Germany.

North Macedonia, placed 67th in the world rankings, had defeated Germany to finish second in Group J before dumping out European champions Italy in the play-off semi-final on Friday, Aleksandar Trajkovski scoring a 92nd-minute winner to pull off a stunning result in Palermo. North Macedonia made a confident start too, their possession sustained enough to draw whistles from an agitated home crowd.

Portugal’s first chance came in the 14th minute when Jota threaded Ronaldo through and the striker unleashed with his left foot, only to fire wide of the far post. Jota headed into the ground and over from a Fernandes corner and then in the 32nd minute, Fernandes struck, capitalising on an error from North Macedonian captain, Stefan Ristovski.

The visitors regrouped and found their feet at the start of the second period but were undone again by a slick Portuguese break, and Fernandes. North Macedonia wanted a late penalty when Danilo Pereira nicked the ball away from Bojan Miovski in the area before Ronaldo was prevented from reaching Fernandes’ cross to the near post on another counter-attack.

Robert Lewandowski slotted home a second-half penalty as Poland booked their berth at the World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Sweden.

After the Poland captain converted a spot kick, Piotr Zielinski put the game beyond doubt with a superb second goal for the hosts in Chorzow.

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny played a key role in Poland’s victory with saves to deny Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg in both halves.

Poland go into Friday’s draw for the group stages of the World Cup finals after dominating the second half.

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

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Veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic came on for the final 10 minutes, but the 40-year-old Sweden striker was unable to influence the course of the match and will miss out on a third appearance at a World Cup finals.

– © AFP 2022

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