In a twist that few people saw coming, North Macedonia will face Portugal tomorrow for a World Cup spot.
The Portuguese squad needs no introduction. Many of their players are genuinely World-class and are employed by some of the biggest clubs worldwide. We know what to expect from them and as favorites, they will dominate the game just like Italy did.
North Macedonia come into this game as clear underdogs, just like they did against Italy. In that game, they won by defending resolutely, staying compact, relying on luck and taking their chance the moment it arrived.
Against Portugal, it will be harder to do that. The Iberian country has several playmakers adept at playing between the lines and are better-placed than Italy to exploit the deep block North Macedonia will deploy.
Read on for our match preview of the final playoff round below!
Portugal vs North Macedonia Head-to-Head
The two countries have met just twice. Unsurprisingly, Portugal has dominated that tiny sample with one win and one draw.
Portugal is currently ranked as the 8th-best team in international football while North Macedonia is 59 places behind in 67th place.
Portugal’s form in the 5 games has been okay. Over that period, the home country has won 3 games, lost one and drawn one. (Form: W-L-D-W-W)
Surprisingly, over that period, North Macedonia has had an even better record than Portugal. The away side has won four games and lost just once. (Form: W-W-W-L-W)
Portugal vs North Macedonia Team News
Experienced Portugal defender, Pepe received a COVID-19 diagnosis before Portugal’s last game and had to drop out of the squad. The Porto defender has since tested negative and is now back training with the squad.
Manchester City full back, Joao Cancelo will also be back in the team after completing his suspension against Turkey.
There are no other absences in the current Portuguese squad and head coach, Fernando Santos should be able to field his strongest available team.
Expected lineup: Diogo Costa. Joao Cancelo, Jose Fonte, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Moutinho, Danilo Pereira, Bernado Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Cristiano Ronaldo.
For North Macedonia, key midfielder, Boban Nikolov was injured against Italy. He had to be replaced early in the second half of that game and is not expected to make it back in time for the Portugal game.
The rest of the North Macedonia squad is fit, including match winner Aleksandar Trajkovski.
Expected lineup: Stole Dimitrievski, Ezgjan Alioski, Visar Muslisu, Darko Velkovski, Stefan Ristovski, Arijan Ademi, Enis Bardhi, Eljif Elmas, Aleksandar Trajkovski, Darko Churlinov, Milan Ristovski.
Portugal vs North Macedonia Prediction
Portugal are overwhelming favorites here. Any result apart from an outright victory will be regarded as an embarrassing one. They have to win, it’s really that easy.
Team captain, Cristiano Ronaldo will be aware that this could be his last World Cup and will leave everything on the pitch, along with his teammates.
Memories of the Euro 2004 final where they were defeated by an unfancied Greece side will still be fresh in the memory of the Portuguese fans and players, especially Ronaldo who was actually part of that team.
They will have noticed how North Macedonia stunned Italy and will be determined to avoid being in that position again. This should be a straightforward Portugal win.
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