World Cup playoffs round-up: Portugal and Poland book their spots in Qatar finals

Sadio Mane slots home winning penalty as Senegal qualify after shoot-out with Egypt

Portugal 2 North Macedonia 0

Portugal's Bruno Fernandes scored twice as they beat stubborn visitors North Macedonia 2-0 to qualify for the World Cup finals in Qatar after a tense European playoff tie in Porto on Tuesday.

Roared on by 50,000 fans at a sold-out Dragao Stadium, Portugal dominated the game from the start but struggled to break down the strong North Macedonian defence, managing only three shots on target despite having almost 70 per cent possession.

Fernandes opened the scoring 30 minutes into the first half after intercepting a pass by his best friend, North Macedonia captain Stefan Ristovski, working a great one-two with Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo before whipping his shot past the goalkeeper.

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The 27-year-old attacking midfielder sealed Portugal's win in the 65th minute, striking home a close-range volley from a Diogo Jota cross.

Fernando Santos’s team then ran down the clock, celebrating at the final whistle with their joyful fans who remained in the stands for more than 15 minutes after the game, singing as the players completed a victory lap holding a huge Portugal flag.

Portugal, who won the 2016 European Championship in France, qualified for a sixth straight World Cup finals and have not missed a major international competition in the last 20 years.

They were pushed into the playoffs after finishing second in Group A, having lost their final game at home to Serbia 2-1 last November.

That had left them needing to win two consecutive elimination games to qualify, with last week’s win over Turkey, where they survived late drama, setting up a decider against North Macedonia, who had stunned Italy in their opening match.

It was a nervous occasion in Porto on Tuesday but Portugal dominated and avoided any surprises from the underdogs, who did not have a shot on target.

Poland 2 Sweden 0

Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski fired in second-half goals as Poland booked their place in the World Cup finals in Qatar with a 2-0 win over Sweden in an electrifying playoff tie in Chorzow on Tuesday.

The Poles battled to contain a Sweden side bristling with youthful attacking vigour, but in the end they capitalised on the visitors’ mistakes thanks to the experience of Lewandowski and his team-mates.

After surviving a shaky opening, the Swedes quickly grew into the game and winger Emil Forsberg should have given them the lead, but Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the first of a string of fine saves to turn the ball behind for a corner in the 19th minute.

The home side also struggled with Dejan Kulusevski, with the winger twice going close for the visitors before the game turned on a clumsy mistake by Jesper Karlstroem.

The Swedish midfielder mistimed a challenge in the box early in the second half and ended up bundling Poland substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak to the ground, with Italian referee Daniele Orsato immediately pointing to the spot.

Up stepped Poland captain Lewandowski, and he sent Robin Olsen the wrong way before confidently striking his low spot kick into the net for his 75th international goal.

The Swedes threw caution to the wind and poured forward, with Szczesny getting down smartly to deny Forsberg again, with Victor Lindelöf sending the resulting corner just wide with a glancing header.

Just as they looked to be on the verge of scoring, a mix-up between Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Danielson allowed Zielinski to score as he curled the ball into the net at the near post in the 73rd minute.

The Swedes brought record goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench for the final 10 minutes but Szczesny and the Polish defence held firm in front of the capacity crowd to secure their spot at the World Cup finals.

African round-up

Sadio Mane slotted the decisive penalty to send Senegal to the finals while his Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah suffered shoot-out heartbreak for Egypt.

Mane’s spot-kick concluded a dramatic second leg in Diamniadio after Hamdi Fathi’s fourth-minute own goal hauled the hosts level following Egypt’s 1-0 win in Cairo on Friday night.

The result was a repeat of the Africa Cup of Nations final two months ago when Mane again scored the winning penalty against the same opponents.

Senegal dominated most of the proceedings and Egypt were indebted to keeper Mohamed El Shenawy who produced a series of stunning saves to deny Pape Abdou Cisse and Ismaila Sarr in extra-time.

Salah blazed Egypt’s first penalty over the bar and after both sides contrived to miss their first four spot-kicks combined, it fell to Mane to seal his side’s passage to Qatar.

Thomas Partey's early goal saw Ghana also qualify for the finals after a 1-1 draw with Nigeria in Abuja, which proved enough to send the Ghanaians through on the away goals rule.

Home fans at the stadium reacted to the result by throwing objects at both the small group of visiting fans in the Moshood Abiola National Stadium and the Ghana players.

Local security was slow to react to the violence, which included a pitch invasion on the final whistle, and the Ghana players were left to battle their own way towards the tunnel in scenes that will no doubt draw the ire of the Confederation of African Football and Fifa.

When police finally did get involved they started to beat the rioters with their batons, while it took teargas on the pitch to disperse the unruly fans, who also smashed the dugouts.

Morocco qualified after Azzedine Ounahi netted a double in Casablanca as they overcame first-half injuries to beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 4-1 in the second leg of their playoff.

Morocco advanced 5-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Kinshasa in Friday’s first leg and will compete at the finals for a sixth time.

Tarik Tissuoadali and Achraf Hakimi scored the other goals for Morocco, who were 2-0 up at half-time despite losing defender Jawad El Yamiq after six minutes to a muscle injury and having to take off goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, suffering from concussion after twice being hit on the head in aerial duels, in the 43rd.

Substitute Ben Malongo netted a consolation for the Congolese with a shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty box that was the pick of the night’s efforts.

Tunisia qualified for a sixth World Cup finals appearance after a 0-0 draw at home to Mali in Tunis ensured their place at the tournament in Qatar with a 1-0 aggregate triumph.

Mali, who have never previously qualified, were much more enterprising but failed to break down a typically tight Tunisia defence, as the hosts held on to their advantage from last Friday’s first leg in Bamako.

The north Africans benefitted from a horror own goal in Mali where defender Moussa Sissako contrived to turn the ball into his own net in the first half of the first leg and then get himself sent off only four minutes later.

With a 1-0 lead, Tunisia played it safe and the return match had little of the drama of the first clash, although there was some needle between the two teams given what was at stake.

Karl Toko Ekambi scored a 124th-minute winner as Cameroon sensationally booked their place with a 2-1 victory over hosts Algeria at the Stade Mustapha Tchaker in Blida.

Algeria looked to have booked their place when Ahmed Touba netted with three minutes remaining at the end of extra-time, but as Cameroon pushed everyone forward for the final play of the game, Toko Ekambi latched on to a headed pass from Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui to net a most unlikely winner.

The victory on the away goals rule, following a 2-2 aggregate draw, seals an eighth World Cup finals appearance for the Indomitable Lions and follows a 1-0 win for Algeria in the first leg on Friday that left them heavy favourites to advance.

It seals a disastrous few months for the north African side who were dumped out of the Africa Cup of Nations finals, ironically played in Cameroon, in the first round in January as they gave up the title they won in 2019.

But the night was Cameroon’s to celebrate after Eric Choupo-Moting had given them the lead in the first half, a goal which took the tie to extra-time.

His strike came via a mistake from Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi, who dropped the ball under pressure from his own team-mate at a corner and Choupo-Moting reacted quickest to turn the loose ball into the net.