Belgrade: Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo stormed off seconds before the final whistle after being denied a clear winner in a controversial climax of his World Cup qualifier against Serbia, who fought back from two goals and scored a 2-2 draw.
Ronaldo was furious in stoppage time when Serbian defender Stefan Mitrovic clarified his efforts after crossing the finish line. Dutch referee Danny Makkelie kept waving and had no VAR to review the decision. Ronaldo tossed his captain’s armband on the ground before stepping off the pitch and heading for the tunnel seconds before the full-time whistle in an exciting Group A qualifier.
A Diogo Jota double put Portugal 2-0 up in the first half, but Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic became the country’s top scorer after scoring a goal in the 46th minute after scoring 39 goals from 63 caps. The Serbs, who finished the 10-man game, earned some of the booty as Filip Kostic equalized and Portugal’s misery in stoppage time ended. Ronaldo also booked for dissent when his efforts were denied.
There are moments that are hard to digest, especially when we feel like the entire nation is being punished, Ronaldo said on Instagram. We’ll keep our heads up and face the next challenge. Seconds earlier, Serbian defender Nikola Milenkovic was sent off after receiving a red card for a hasty challenge against Portuguese midfielder Danilo Pereira.
The result left both sides behind with four points after two games, with Serbia leading the group ahead of Portugal, while Luxembourg finished third with three points from a game after a 1-0 win in Ireland.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos kindly accepted the result despite saying it was unacceptable not to have a VAR at this level of competition. The referee apologized to me right after the game and we have to move on now, he told a press conference.
It was a clear goal, but there is nothing we can do now. We controlled the first half but lost our focus in the second and didn’t contain Serbia as they moved forward. Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic, who made five changes to the team that beat Ireland when he made his national team debut on Wednesday, was philosophical about the incident.
I never comment on the referee’s decisions, whether they go our way or not. Mistakes by officials are part of the game and should be viewed as such. I did not see it clearly, I can only make a judgment after seeing the replay. Ronaldo is a great player but we kept him largely in control tonight and in the second half we showed that we can hold back by two goals down.
We always knew what to expect from a top team like Portugal, but against opponents like that you have to be brave and never give up. This group of players learns that quickly. Liverpool striker Jota gave European champions Portugal an 11th-minute header from a brilliant assistant from Bernardo Silva and added another in the 36th minute when he saw a cross from Cedric Soares from the right.