Portugal and Serbia will both be gunning to make it two wins in two in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers when they lock horns this weekend.

The top two of Group A of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Europe will battle it out on Saturday as leaders Serbia host second-placed Portugal at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Serbia kicked off their qualifying campaign on Wednesday in a thrilling contest over the Republic of Ireland as they came back from a goal down to earn a 3-2 victory. The win was enough to put them to the top of the group standings and manager Dragan Stojkovic will be hoping to consolidate that position with another victory this weekend.

Portugal, on the other hand, had to rely on a huge stroke of luck to beat Azerbaijan 1-0 in their qualifying campaign opener. Despite having a glut of chances, the reigning champions of Europe did not look nearly sharp enough and that will need to change soon, especially as the Euros are not far enough.

The last times these two sides met was in September 2019, with Portugal beating Serbia 4-2 away from home. And ahead of their latest encounter this Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Serbia

Mitrovic in line to start after his heroics vs Ireland (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Mitrovic in line to start after his heroics vs Ireland (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Serbia have a fresh injury issue heading into the game as in-form Rubin Kazan striker Dorde Despotovic has been ruled out with an ankle problem and has been allowed to return to Russia. No replacement has been called up for the centre-forward by the Eagles.

There could be a couple of changes made to the side that started against the Republic of Ireland last time out. Serbia are likely to line up in a 3-4-1-2 setup in front of goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic.

Nikola Milenkovic, who is a target for Manchester United, ought to hold on to his place in the three-man defensive unit alongside Stefan Mitrovic and Strahinja Pavlovic, both of whom will be hoping to have a much more solid game than they did against Ireland.

Milan Gazic and Filip Kostic ought to be the two wing-backs who will constantly look to drive forward and provide attacking support to their teammates. Uros Racic will be the man holding down the fort in the centre of the park while Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will start alongside him and operate in a box-to-box role.

Dusan Tadic, who created two goals in the win over Ireland, is a certainty to start in the hole behind the two strikers who ought to be Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, with the latter coming into the team in place of Luka Jovic after scoring a match-winning brace in the last game coming on from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Dmitrovic; Milenkovic, Mitrovic, Pavlovic; Gazic, Milinkovic-Savic, Racic, Kostic; Tadic; Vlahovic, Mitrovic

Portugal

Portugal have no fresh injury or fitness concerns after the game against Azerbaijan. Although, they are missing experienced personnel in the form of Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro, who had withdrawn their names from the squad due to injury prior to the opening game.

Fernando Santos is expected to make a few changes to the team that took the field against Azerbaijan earlier this week, although Anthony Lopes is likely to be retained in goal over the uncapped duo of Jose Sa and Rui Silva.

Joao Cancelo is a certain starter at right-back while teenage prodigy Nuno Mendes should make his second appearance for the Seleccao at left-back from where he will look to provide an attacking outlet. Domingos Duarte and Manchester City star Ruben Dias are the obvious choices for the centre-back slots although Jose Fonte is also an option.

Bruno Fernandes should get the nod in the middle of the park on Saturday after making a substitute appearance against Azerbaijan. Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves are expected to retain their places in the lineup.

Bernardo Silva could move to the right flank after starting in midfield against Azerbaijan and with Cristiano Ronaldo and an in-form Andre Silva certain starters in attack, it will be Pedro Neto who misses out against Serbia.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Lopes; Cancelo, Duarte, Diaz, Mendes; Fernandes, Neves, Moutinho; B. Silva, A. Silva, Ronaldo

Key Stats

  • Portugal have never lost in any of their six matches against Serbia till date, winning three and drawing three apiece.
  • Neither team has been able to keep a clean sheet in each of their previous six meetings.
  • Portugal have lost just one of their last eleven fixtures, with the defeat coming against World Champions France in the UEFA Nations League in November last year.
  • Since losing on penalties to Scotland in November last year, Serbia are on a five-game unbeaten run, winning two of those matches.
  • If Aleksandar Mitrovic finds the back of the net on Saturday, he will become Serbia’s all-time leading goalscorer overtaking Stjepan Bobek’s tally of 38 for Yugoslavia between 1946-56.

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal’s most-capped player ever and their highest-ever goalscorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, had a forgettable outing against Azerbaijan last time out. So, the focus will obviously be on him on Saturday as the Seleccao look to put in a commanding performance and pick up a vital victory over Serbia.

The 36-year-old talisman was on target in Portugal’s last meeting with Serbia. However, the skipper has now gone three games without a goal or an assist for his national team and that will be something he will want to address when he takes the field at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Prediction

Serbia 1-2 Portugal

In the likes of Dusan Vlahovic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Tadic, Serbia have quality in attack that could trouble the Portuguese defence. However, the hosts’ backline looked anything but solid against Ireland last time out and a Portugal team boasting of so much quality should be able to make the most of it. To that end, The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the Seleccao, taking them to the top of Group A.

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