Portugal will aim to avoid defeat as they look to finish as group winners when they host Serbia in a top of the table clash this weekend.

Portugal would have really loved to come out of Dublin with all three points, which could have given them a comfortable cushion over rivals Serbia heading into Sunday’s clash. With the game against Ireland ending in a goalless draw, Fernando Santos’ men sit level on points with the Serbians with only goal difference keeping them in the top spot.

The idea is to finish this group as winners, and to achieve that, Portugal have to avoid defeat as a bare minimum. Santos’ men certainly have the experience on their side, having gone unbeaten in World Cup qualifying games since September 2016. They have to show that mettle when it comes to this crunch tie, as both sides have plenty to lose despite being guaranteed at the very least a playoff place for the 2022 World Cup.

Despite a fruitful few years in international tournaments, Portugal will be wary of finishing runners-up. Their problems at World Cups or Euros have always emerged due to their performances in qualifications, often landing them in tough groups in tournaments, not to mention they could end up having to go through the playoffs. Hence, they will be hopeful of at least securing a draw, while a win will certainly do the job.

Serbia had the pleasure of watching Portugal from afar as their rivals endured a tough time in Dublin. That result against Ireland certainly sets up the visit to Lisbon nicely as both sides eye the top spot in the group. The visitors played only a friendly against Qatar, winning the contest comfortably with a 4-0 scoreline.

Dragan Stojkovic will have a refreshed squad at his disposal and can certainly use it to their advantage in a crucial clash like this one. Their failure to qualify for Euro 2020 has spurned them to perform better, and the current group of players have plenty of promise in them, something they can put to the test against Portugal in Lisbon.

Team News & Tactics

Portugal

Santos will have key attacker Bernardo Silva back in contention after missing the Ireland clash due to a muscle injury. The Manchester City man will likely slot in straight into the starting lineup at the expense of Goncalo Guedes on the right side of the attack. His addition could lead to further changes to the front three.

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Cristiano Ronaldo could be moved centrally after starting on the left side against Ireland to replace Andre Silva, while Diogo Jota could start from the left.

In midfield, Santos might bring in the experience of Joao Moutinho, which could let Joao Palhinha play at the base. Bruno Fernandes will keep his place on the right side of midfield.

Pepe was shown a red card in the Ireland clash in defence, meaning he will miss out against Serbia. While Jose Fonte might be the ideal replacement for the veteran in central defence, Santos might likely keep Danilo Pereira alongside Ruben Dias at the back after the PSG star impressed against Ireland.

Nuno Mendes, who missed the previous game due to a suspension, might be back to start at left-back. The PSG star’s presence could allow Joao Cancelo to move back to his customary right-back position.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Patricio; Cancelo, Dias, Pereira, Mendes; Fernandes, Palinha, Moutinho; B.Silva, Ronaldo, Jota

Serbia

Stojkovic will have to contend with multiple injuries to his players. Four players are missing for the Eagles, with Matija Nastasic, Marko Petkovic, Filip Djuricic and Darko Lazovic all unavailable due to various issues. Those players have already withdrawn early from the squad ahead of the Portugal clash.

Stojkovic will now have to find solutions at right wing-back, considering Djuricic and Lazovic are ruled out. Nemanja Radonjic could be the man to slot into that position. The manager will keep his team’s shape and set them up in a back three to contain the Portuguese attack.

Stefan Mitrovic, Nikola Milenkovic and Strahinja Pavlovic will make up the back three, with Filip Kostic slotting in at left wing-back. Sergej Milenkovic-Savic and Nemanja Gudelj will start in central midfield.

Dusan Tadic will play in an advanced position behind the front two. In-form Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic and Fulham star Aleksandar Mitrovic are expected to lead the line.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Rajkovic; Milenkovic, S.Mitrovic, Pavlovic; Radonjic, Milenkovic-Savic, Gudelj, Kostic; Tadic; A.Mitrovic, Vlahovic

Key Stats

  • Portugal are undefeated in their last seven games in Fifa World Cup qualifications.
  • Portugal have kept a clean sheet in their last three games in World Cup qualifications.
  • Portugal are undefeated in their last seven matches against Serbia in all competitions.
  • Serbia are unbeaten in their last seven games in World cup qualifying.

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

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After failing to get anything out of Irish defenders in Dublin, Ronaldo will be more than desperate to stamp his authority against Serbia. This is a crucial game, with Portugal needing at least a draw to secure top spot in Group A, and the Manchester United man will have to play an essential role to ensure a result of that sort.

There are considerable threats on the Serbian side too. Vlahovic and Mitrovic have been prolific this season and will certainly trouble Portuguese defenders. For the hosts to come out on top, they will need Ronaldo’s goals and experience to come to the fore on Sunday.

Prediction

Portugal 1-1 Serbia

The game will probably end in a draw, with Portugal benefitting from the result. There’s enough quality on both sides to score more than the predicted result of 1-1, although it’s expected to be a cagey match, with the Portuguese sitting deep and playing on the counter.

Serbia certainly have the threat in their forward lines with Vlahovic and Mitrovic alongside Tadic capable of shattering any defensive line in the world. However, the likes of Pereira and Dias are expected to be at their best to help Portugal finish as group winners.

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