Portugal manager Fernando Santos has asked the world to pay more attention to what North Macedonia can do after the minnow side dumped Italy, the European champions, out of the FIFA World Cup.
Italy will miss two successive World Cups for the first time since 1958 thanks to a 92nd minute goal from Aleksandar Trajkovski sent North Macedonia in place of the Azzurri to face Portugal.
While that match was going on, Portugal we’re putting in a shaky performance to stop Turkey from causing the same kind of upset but managed to do so, running out 3-1 victors from their tie.
First half goals from Diogo Jota and Otavio Edmilson, as well as a goal in the closing stages from Matheus Nunes helped Portugal scale through to the next playoffs round.
Turkey woke up in the second half and were on the brink of setting up a tense final stages until captain Burak Yilmaz skied a penalty that could have brought the scores level at 2-2.
Both sides were almost evenly matched with Portugal only slightly edging ahead of them in chances created. However, that match is now in the past as North Macedonia lies in wait for them on Tuesday to decide who goes to the World Cup.
While that fixture looks like a walkover for the superstar-dominated Portuguese side, manager Fernando Santos has asked that their opponents not be written off, citing their defeat of Italy as proof that they are as strong as any team they would face.
“We need to show the same respect to North Macedonia that we would to Italy,” Santos said after his side had defeated Turkey. “I told you before we could be playing them, those games are not a joke, it’s like a final and anything can happen.
“You have to face it with the focus and concentration that it deserves. A team that goes to Italy and beats the European champions doesn’t need introductions.”
Santos also talked about the nervy ending to the game, which was calmed by Nunes’ dying minute goal, while sounding a warning to his side to be ready for Tuesday.
“We can’t allow that to happen in a game we had under control, it’s a warning for next Tuesday,” Santos said.
“Today’s game is over and we have to focus on the next rival that will give us the game of their lives for sure. We’ll need extra focus playing at home in front of our crowd. The motivation has to be our main goal, going to the World Cup.”
Nunes, scorer of the nerve-calming goal, also spoke to journalists after the game, admitting that North Macedonia needs even greater preparation following the upset in Palermo.
“We can’t think it will be easy against North Macedonia,” Nunes told reporters. “Now we have to rest and work for the game plan. It’s a team that deserves all our respect. They went to Italy and won, you have to have quality to accomplish that.”