Once again, it looks like Portugal will have to go through a playoff to make a major tournament.
A late blunder by the Portugal goalkeeper, Rui Patricio, handed Israel a 1-1 draw in their Group F qualifier on Friday that all but ended his country’s hopes of snatching automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup.
The result is enough to guarantee Portugal a play-off spot but victory would have kept them a point behind the leaders, Russia, before Tuesday’s final round of matches, while instead they are now three adrift and with a vastly inferior goal difference.
Portugal‘s centre-back Ricardo Costa‘s 26th-minute opener was cancelled out by Eden Ben Basat’s easy finish for the visitors in the 85th minute. The draw means Portugal have 18 points from nine games before hosting Luxembourg next week, while Russia have three points more before they travel to Azerbaijan.
Portugal dominated the match and will be disappointed by their performance but the result is still enough to secure a runners-up spot. The draw means they remain five points ahead of Israel with only one round to go. Russia lead the group with 21 points.
Portugal were forced to deploy an untried back four but their coach Paulo Bento’s choices duly delivered as it was a passage of play between defenders that broke the deadlock midway through the first half. Pepe pounced on a cross from the left-back, Antunes, and sent the ball to his fellow centre-back, Ricardo Costa, to fire in from close range.
The hosts’ dominance was undone five minutes before the final whistle when Patricio’s mishit clearance fell straight to the Israel striker Ben Bassat, who confidently steered the ball home.
Europe’s nine group winners will qualify automatically for the 32-nation tournament in Brazil, while the eight best runners-up will enter two-legged play-offs for the continent’s remaining four berths.[fbphotos id=589488294442613]