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World Cup: Portugal keen to put North Macedonia in their place

The  World Cup is now just months away, but Portugal have yet to cement their place in Qatar.

(This article was originally published on 28.03.2022)

Fernando Santos' side are now just 90 minutes away from booking their plane tickets to the Middle East, thanks to last week's 3-1 victory over Turkey in the play-off semi-finals.

Portugal rode their luck at times, but after watching North Macedonia shock Italy, they know Tuesday's tie in Porto will be anything but a walk in the park.

Tuesday's other World Cup play-off final will see Poland host Sweden at the Stadion Slaski, and it promises to be a fascinating night of action.

One step too far for stubborn North Macedonia

North Macedonia's 1-0 success over Italy is still being discussed, and the current playing group will need to come back to reality in time for Tuesday's battle.

Nobody expected Blagoja Milevski's troops to pick up a result, but even though they were fortunate to play Italy on a disappointing night at the office, they put them in their place thanks to a 1-0 win.

Aleksandar Trajkovski is unlikely to ever score a goal as important in his life, but sadly it could all be for nothing this week as they try to regroup and produce the goods for one final time before the World Cup.

North Macedonia, who are 14/1 to win in Porto, have now won three on the bounce during World Cup qualifying without conceding, but it should be Portugal that could enjoy a similar result.

Santos' men are 4/6 to win to nil, and their defensive woes are due to improve this week.

Joao Cancelo, Pepe and Ruben Dias all missed the win over Turkey, but the Manchester City man is back from suspension, and his eye for goal could be a significant boost on Tuesday night.

Italy had an incredible 32 attempts during their defeat to North Macedonia, and if Portugal are to enjoy similar success, Cristiano Ronaldo could have an enjoyable evening.

Ronaldo is 7/4 to score two or more, while Diogo Jota, who netted against Turkey, is 5/1 to also bag two goals or more.

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Strength in depth could prove the difference

A place in Qatar is also on the line for Poland and Sweden, and one of Europe's best will miss out when the two teams clash in Chorzow.

Poland received a bye into the play-off final, but Sweden had to go into extra time before beating the Czech Republic.

Czeslaw Michniewicz's outfit played Scotland in a friendly in order to prepare for Tuesday's battle, but they flattered to deceive during a 1-1 draw in Glasgow.

Poland have only lost one of their last eight matches, and they also have a strong record in World Cup qualifiers at home.

Not since 2009 have Poland failed to score in a home qualifier for the World Cup, and with Robert Lewandowski in their ranks, they could have some success.

The Bayern Munich forward is 1/1 to score anytime in front of his home fans, while he can be backed at 5/1 to score two or more.

The former Borussia Dortmund frontman has scored eight goals from eight appearances in qualifying, and at even money, he seems a great bet in the anytime market.

He has also scored 31 goals in 27 Bundesliga matches, so Lewandowski could not be in better form ahead of Tuesday's battle.

However, Poland have some selection woes ahead of kick-off, with Mateusz Klich will miss out due to suspension.

Arkadiusz Milik and Bartosz Salamon also suffered injuries against Scotland, while Sweden boss Janne Andersson has a wealth of options at his disposal in the final third.

Alexander Isak, Robin Quaison and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all hoping to start up front, with Sweden 11/5 to pick up the victory.

Martin Olsson will miss out through injury, but Emil Krafth returns to the fold as Sweden look to maintain their remarkable record against Poland.

Sweden beat Poland 3-2 when the two teams met at Euro 2020, while they have also won the last six battles between the pair.

We had to dig deep into the record books to find Poland's last win over Sweden, and even then, it was a 2-0 success in an international friendly.

It is fair to say that Sweden are Poland's bogey team, and with injuries now mounting up, it looks like they could fail to qualify for this year's tournament in Qatar.

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