SportsCristiano's last bullet

Cristiano’s last bullet

This Thursday marks one year since Germany’s 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in Duisburg. The match precipitated the end of the Joachim Löw era in the mannschaft and raised Macedonia to a status it had never had in its history. With hardly any track record, the team became overnight a disturbing selection. Of the eight games that followed, he only lost one – against Germany – and last Thursday he eliminated Italy from the World Cup play-offs. The drama across the Adriatic spilled over into a national holiday in Skopje. Encouraged by the climate of euphoria, Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski got on the plane that would take the footballers to Porto to play against Portugal in the decisive match of the World Cup play-off in Qatar. Standing in the aisle of the aircraft, Kovacevski harangued the expedition members, promising them 500,000 euros and diplomatic passports as a premium, if they obtained the ticket.



North Macedonia


“It’s a good omen,” ventured Visar Musliu, defender of Ingolstadt, from the Second Bundesliga, when he learned that his team would stay in the same hotel that hosted Chelsea on the eve of the last Champions League final, which was played and won in the stadium of O Dragao. This Tuesday (8:45 pm, Four) on the same stage, Macedonia will become the last obstacle between the World Cup and the best generation in the history of Portugal.

Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Rúben Dias and Joao Félix are the first representatives of the most sudden outbreak of talent in a European country in the last decade. But once they had acquired the necessary experience to claim a preeminent place in the hierarchy of the squad, frictions have arisen. Cristiano Ronaldo is reluctant to behave like just another player. At 37 years old, he false nine most resolute of the century strives so that the whole team continues to revolve around him. The malaise began to take shape before the last European Championship. First with Fernando Santos, the coach, who warns that Cristiano is no longer in a physical condition to choose where he wants to play, but that he must adapt to the team and not the other way around.

The protagonist of the last press conference before the match, Cristiano boasted of being a collectivist when someone promptly asked him if the World Cup was inconceivable without him. “There is no World Cup without Portugal, there are no individuals here,” he said; “It’s a group, it’s everyone.”


Cristiano insists on stretching his career without losing specific weight. The reality of the playing field contradicts his claim. Cristiano played a total of eight World Cup qualifying matches. Always as a starter and without ever being replaced. He only scored goals against Ireland (2) and Luxembourg (4). Of the three goals he scored against Luxemburg, the first two were from penalties. Against Serbia – group winners – he went scoreless in 180 minutes. Against Turkey, last Thursday in the semifinal of the play-off, it was not decisive either. On the contrary. His presence irritated teammates like Bruno Fernandes, lost like Moutinho in the creative processes of a team that, due to a lack of empathy, had a hard time finding the way to the goal. Turkey was one penalty away – Yilmaz missed – from drawing 2-2 and bringing Portugal to the brink of the precipice. Macedonia is no less dangerous.

“Macedonia surprised Italy,” Cristiano said. “He did that in a lot of games. But I think tomorrow will not surprise us. Portugal will be better and we will go to the World Cup”.

Macedonia is a very limited team that is collected in its area as the best rocks in Europe. Tucked into the last trench, their midfielders and defenders are masters in the art of narrowing spaces, lifting obstacles and evacuating balls. If Portugal does not straighten the course of the game and in the stands of O Dragao the rumor of fear begins to be heard, its players will have to show the cohesion that they have lacked. Then the fate of the home team will come perilously close to the fate of Italy.

You can follow EL PAÍS DEPORTES on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.