Portugal and Turkey will both aim to move one step closer to World Cup 2022 qualification when they do battle in Thursday’s playoff semi-final at the Estadio do Dragao.
Fernando Santos’s side are forced to go down the playoff route after finishing second in Group A, while Turkey finished as runners-up to the Netherlands in Group G.
Portugal fans cannot forget the name Aleksandar Mitrovic quickly enough, as with the Euro 2016 champions and Serbia level pegging at 1-1 in their final group encounter, the Fulham forward dramatically headed home in the 90th minute to send his side into the finals.
A goalless stalemate with the Republic of Ireland three days before that 2-1 defeat also proved costly in Portugal’s bid to secure a simple route to Qatar, with Santos’s side now at a real risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
A potential meeting with Italy in the playoff final could follow for Portugal – assuming that the European champions can navigate their way past North Macedonia in the other Path C semi-final – meaning that at least one of the two European heavyweights will be watching on from home later this year.
A record of 17 points and a +11 goal difference means that Portugal boast the best group record out of any UEFA nation in the playoffs, but defeat to Serbia at the Estadio da Luz marked their first home loss in World Cup Qualifying since 2008.
However, Santos’s side had won 10 on the bounce at home in qualification before Mitrovic and Dusan Tadic put them to the sword in November, although their upcoming opponents have enjoyed quite the revival since their Euro 2020 capitulation.
Despite taking maximum points from their final three fixtures in the group phase, it was too little too late for Turkey to pip the Netherlands to the top spot in Group G, as Stefan Kuntz’s side seek just a third-ever appearance at the World Cup finals.
Since crashing out of Euro 2020 without a single point to their name, the Crescent-Stars have only suffered one defeat in seven games since – although it was a 6-1 humbling at the hands of the Dutch – and they marched to successive wins over Latvia, Gibraltar and Montenegro to round off Group G.
Not since collecting bronze medals at the 2002 tournament have Turkey plied their trade in the World Cup finals, and Kuntz’s side are facing an uphill battle to end that agonising 20-year wait here, with the talent in their ranks not exactly gelling on a consistent basis.
Furthermore, only the hapless Gibraltar (43) conceded more goals than Turkey (16) in Group G, although they have found the back of the net in every one of their World Cup 2022 Qualifying games so far and may fancy their chances against a depleted Portuguese defence.
However, this week’s hosts have come up trumps in six of their eight meetings with Turkey down the years, but the most recent clash between the two sides back in 2012 ended in a 3-1 friendly victory for the Crescent-Stars, with Umut Bulut on the scoresheet twice.
Portugal World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Portugal form (all competitions):
Turkey World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
We say: Portugal 3-2 Turkey
While Turkey will take confidence from their recent spate of victories, they have all been against sides whom they would have expected to beat, and one European superpower in the Netherlands simply tore them apart last year.
Portugal’s depleted defence is there to be exposed by Kuntz’s side, and a tasty affair with plenty of goals on the menu is likely, but the hosts have plenty of attacking stars on form for their respective clubs and should edge a close contest to make the playoff final.