Cristiano Ronaldo misses a big chance to grab Portugal winner as they are held to a goalless stalemate by the Republic of Ireland with defender Pepe seeing red… but they still go top ahead of final-day showdown with group rivals Serbia
- Portugal were held to a dour goalless qualifying draw in the Republic of Ireland
- Cristiano Ronaldo wasted game’s best chance as he glanced a free header wide
- Pepe was sent off for a second yellow card late on as Portugal settled for a draw
- Despite the draw, Portugal still go top of their World Cup qualifying group
- Will now face group rivals Serbia, with winner securing automatic qualification
Portugal moved closer to automatic World Cup qualification on Thursday despite a poor 0-0 draw with Republic of Ireland that left them needing another point in their final game at home to Group A rivals Serbia to secure their spot in Qatar.
Portugal narrowly avoided a shock loss to Ireland two months ago thanks to two last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo goals and seemed happy to take a point against the fourth-placed side knowing a superior goal difference to Serbia put them in the driving seat.
They will have to do it without Pepe, however, after the experienced central defender was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.
Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after missing a chance to head Portugal into the lead late on
The Manchester United forward glanced wide in the second half of the World Cup qualifier
In an evenly-contested first half of few chances, Ronaldo was foiled by a fine block from Ireland captain Seamus Coleman but the Manchester United forward was otherwise kept well under wraps by the hard-working hosts.
Chiedozie Ogbene, who plies his trade quite a few rungs below Ronaldo in the third tier of English soccer with Rotherham United, should have done better with a near-post header just before halftime in his first international start.
Ireland’s performance in Faro marked a turning-point in Stephen Kenny’s 14-month reign, during which he has blooded impressive youngsters like teenage goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu but waited 12 games for a victory, last month’s 3-0 win in Azerbaijan.
Playing in front of a full house at the Aviva Stadium for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kenny saw more encouraging signs on Thursday, particularly from striker Callum Robinson, playing with the confidence of a man who had scored five goals in his last two internationals.
Veteran defender Pepe was given a second yellow for a raising his arm to Callum Robinson
Pepe gestures to the referee in disbelief after seeing he was about to be sent off in Dublin
Pepe’s red card now means he will Portugal’s crucial clash against Serbia in their final game
Missing Bernardo Silva through injury with the Manchester City maestro in the form of his life, Portugal also opted not to risk Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Diogo Jota being suspended for Sunday’s table-topping clash and it showed throughout.
Ronaldo, who became the all-time leading scorer in men’s international football against the Irish last time out, almost added goal number 116 with the best chance of the game on 67 minutes but his glancing header slipped narrowly wide.
Despite their greater possession, particularly with the extra man, Ireland did little to threaten Rui Patricio’s goal and Ronaldo went close again at the death.
In the other group game, Gerson Rodrigues took his total in the campaign to five goals by striking twice as Luxembourg beat bottom-placed Azerbaijan 3-1. Luxembourg will secure third place if they avoid defeat in their final game against the Irish.
Rep of Ireland (5-2-3): Bazunu, Coleman, Duffy, Egan, Doherty, Cullen, Hendrick (Hourihane 78), Stevens (McClean 78), Ogbene (Keane 90+1), Robinson, McGrath (Idah 61).
Subs not used: Knight, Collins, Parrott, Manning, Kelleher, O’Dowda, Travers, Browne.
Booked: Coleman, Robinson, Ogbene.
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio, Nelson Semedo, Pepe, Danilo Pereira, Dalot, Joao Palhinha, Matheus Luiz (Moutinho 57), Bruno Fernandes (Sanches 75), Ronaldo, Andre Silva (Felix 75), Goncalo Guedes (Leao 56) (Fonte 83).
Subs not used: William Carvalho, Jose Sa, Costa, Joao Cancelo, Neves, Dias, Jota.
Booked: Pepe, Danilo
Sent off: Pepe
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano (Spain)
Republic of Ireland forward Chiedozie Ogbene looked lively for the hosts throughout
Ronaldo though had an off-night in front of goal and could not make the most of his chances
Despite already being knocked out, Irish fans turned up in big numbers at the Aviva Stadium
RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED
It’s the start of the international break, but it’s crunch time now for many teams including Portugal and Spain heading into the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
With many playing their last two games in their groups, places are up for grabs to join Germany and Denmark who are so far the only sides along with hosts Qatar to have qualified for the finals in a year’s time.
Follow Sportsmail’s DAN RIPLEY for live World Cup qualifier coverage as the group stage reaches its business end, with Portugal taking on the Republic of Ireland in a crucial clash, while Spain need a win at Greece.
Sportsmail will keep you up-to-date across the ground, bringing you the build-up, live updates and results.