Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Oranje wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

He cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip.

Despite a tense game the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since the European Championships, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dijk made a team high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled. Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said the Liverpool defender.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

Aaron Ramsey and Kieffer Moore insisted Wales will not fear facing any of their potential opponents on home soil in the World Cup play-offs for Qatar 2022.

Wales finished second in Group E to earn home advantage in March's play-offs after they fought back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Belgium on Tuesday.

Kevin De Bruyne had put Belgium ahead early in the game before Moore equalised just after the half hour.

Moore's goal was his eighth for Wales since making his international debut in September 2019 – more than any other Wales player in that time.

"It's so important to get a home draw," Moore told Sky Sports.

"If you look at the teams that have come in second, the likes of Portugal and Italy - it's been a bit nervy. But nights like this, I'd back us to take on anyone.

"We left everything out there. We gave everything for that performance because we knew we needed a result.

"The noise after that goal, it was just incredible. I can't explain it, I was lost for words. It's some feeling, I'll say that. The Red Wall [Wales fans] are amazing.

"We knew that Belgium would try and keep as much possession as much as possible so we knew we had to be compact, be tight and not let them through us so that we could get them on the counter-attack."

Wales have lost just two of their last 20 World Cup qualifying matches (won nine, drawn nine) and are unbeaten in their last seven heading into the play-offs next March.

They have also finished in the top two of a World Cup qualifying group for the first time since qualification for the 1966 World Cup, when they finished second (only the first-placed teams qualified that year).

Wales captain Ramsey hailed the willingness of his team-mates put their heads where it hurts against Belgium to clinch a play-off spot.

He added: "Full credit to the boys, they put in a massive shift again against top opposition.

"We always believed we could get a result, especially with our fans behind us. It's another good night for us.

"We build our foundations on everybody putting in a shift for each other, putting their bodies on the line, and we managed to do that again tonight.

"There's some big, big teams still in it but it was so important that we had a home tie. You could see the atmosphere tonight – it's a special place to come and play. Hopefully that will give us an extra edge in that first play-off."

Wales boss Robert Page acknowledged his side suffered from the absence of the injured Gareth Bale against Belgium, with hopes of reaching first World Cup since 1958 now tantalising within reach.

He said: "We're always going to miss Gareth but there's so much he brings to this team off the pitch too, just having him around the dressing room. He wanted to be with us tonight, he's a proper captain.

"When the crowd is behind us like it was tonight, we'll take on anyone. We're not done yet; we're dreaming of a World Cup but it's definitely achievable."

Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay made sure of the Netherlands' place at the 2022 World Cup with late goals in a 2-0 victory against Norway on Tuesday.

Turkey's 2-1 win against Montenegro kept the pressure on the Netherlands, but they still needed only a point to secure their qualification and got more than that in the closing stages at De Kuip.

Bergwijn netted with six minutes left when he fired high into the net before Depay put the result beyond doubt with a goal on the break in injury time.

While the Oranje finished as Group G winners, Norway slipped to third and missed out on a place in the play-offs having failed to register a shot on target across the entire contest.

France ended Finland's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time as a 2-0 win in Helsinki condemned the Nordic nation to third place in UEFA qualifying Group D.

With France's place at Qatar 2022 already secured, attention in the group was firmly on the battle for a place in the play-offs between Finland and Ukraine.

Finland began the night in the box seat, two points ahead of Ukraine, but the situation was turned on its head in the second half.

Oleksandr Zinchenko and Artem Dovbyk secured a 2-0 win for Ukraine over Bosnia-Herzegovina while Karim Benzema's deflected strike and a superb individual effort from Kylian Mbappe saw the reigning world champions claim maximum points as Finland fell at the final hurdle.

A long-range Mbappe effort was the most threatening chance France could muster in a first half where both sides had just one shot on target.

France were forced to withdraw Leo Dubois after he was injured late in the opening period, with Benjamin Pavard filling in at right-back after the break.

The change had no impact on France's control of the game, with Les Bleus' backline rarely tested, and it was the visitors who eventually found a way through in somewhat fortuitous fashion in the 66th minute

Benzema and Mbappe played a neat one-two and the Real Madrid forward's effort nicked off Leo Vaisanen and beyond Lukas Hradecky.

Finland's goalkeeper was beaten in more convincing fashion 10 minutes later, Mbappe burning Vaisanen for pace down the left and bending an unerring finish into the bottom-right corner.

Hradecky's brilliant save denied Mbappe a second, with the Paris Saint-Germain star's second-half performance illustrating the gulf in class that made sure Finland will watch next year's World Cup from home.

Kieffer Moore secured a home World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final for Wales as Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday.

Robert Page's side were already assured of a play-off spot, but they headed into the final Group E game desperate to be among the six top seeds.

Although Kevin De Bruyne put an under-strength Belgium – already assured of a place in the tournament in Qatar next year as group winners – in front, Moore equalised in the first half.

Neither side could fashion a winner, but Wales sealed second place and face a home play-off tie in March when they will hope to have captain Gareth Bale – absent here – back to full fitness.

De Bruyne silenced the Wales fans when he opened the scoring 12 minutes in, the stand-in captain finding the bottom-right corner with a measured finish after a poor attempted clearance from Chris Mepham.

Wales took that setback on the chin, capitalising on slack defending to equalise when Arthur Theate missed his kick as he tried to deal with Dan James' cross and Moore finished clinically with his left foot 13 minutes before half-time.

Thorgan Hazard struck the post when he met a pinpoint De Bruyne corner with a sublime volley from just outside the penalty area as Belgium finished the first half strongly.

An unmarked Connor Roberts spurned a chance to put Wales in front when he sliced a long way wide after a James cross fell nicely for him early in the second half.

Dante Vanzeir came on to make his debut as Roberto Martinez made a triple substitution before the hour-mark.

Neco Williams almost won it when he cut in from the left and brought a fine save from Koen Casteels, but a point was enough for Wales to achieve their objective.

 

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal insisted his "brain still works" following a bike accident left him temporarily in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal suffered a hip injury after falling off his bicycle on Sunday and oversaw Monday's training session from a golf buggy ahead of the Netherlands' crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway.

The Netherlands require at least a draw from their Group G decider on Tuesday to clinch a berth at Qatar 2022.

Van Gaal, who will be able to coach his nation when the Netherlands and Norway clash in Rotterdam, was keen to stress his brain remains intact following the incident.

"Physically, I'm bad. But my brain still works," former Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss Van Gaal told reporters via video link.

Asked if it hurt a lot, Van Gaal replied: "Yes, a lot. That's why I'm in a wheelchair. That's why I led the training session from my buggy.

"Look, it's the lesser trochanter, that’s a bone, and that's broken. And the iliopsoas, that’s a muscle, is attached to that. That's a stabilising muscle. I hope you can all understand what I'm saying.

"I had to learn about every single bone in the human body when I used to study for gymnastics teacher. That comes in handy now."

"I can do everything, because my brain works. There are things I can use, such as that buggy and my wheelchair. I look stupid, I know that too," the 70-year-old added. "But coaching is verbal, and you use your brain to do so. And the presentation has to convince the squad."

Netherlands star Virgil van Dijk added: "It's just sad and unfortunate for him. He now has to recover the next weeks.

"It's a physical thing, luckily it's not mental. He is still focused on reaching the World Cup, like we all are."

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Memphis Depay had Group G leaders the Netherlands on track before Montenegro overturned the two-goal deficit.

The Netherlands will now look to clinch against a Norway side missing injured superstar Erling Haaland.

Van Gaal acknowledged Haaland's absence changes the dynamic of the fixture.

"Haaland has the quality to always show up behind a defence," Van Gaal said. "He also did so in their home game against us, three of four times. That were also their only chances.

"Now, they'll have to find another solution. At least, that's what they'll be trying to do. But Haaland has specific qualities that they'll miss now. We can, in principal, play a bit further from our own goal now too."

Roberto Mancini is "completely confident" Italy can rediscover their cutting edge and seal a 2022 World Cup spot after a goalless draw with Northern Ireland denied them automatic qualification.

The European champions went into their final Group C match at Windsor Park on Monday top on goal difference ahead of Switzerland.

But Northern Ireland did the Swiss a huge favour, frustrating an Azzurri side that could not find a way past goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Switzerland had no such trouble as they thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 to move ahead of Italy and secure their place in the tournament in Qatar next year.

Italy only hit the target with half of their 12 shots and ought to have been consigned to defeat when Conor Washington spurned a great chance in the closing stages, Leonardo Bonucci clearing off the line to preserve a sixth clean sheet of the campaign. No other European team have conceded fewer than their two goals.

The Azzurri must get through a play-off semi-final and final to avoid missing out on a second consecutive World Cup, but Mancini believes they will get the job done in March.

He said: "Despite controlling matches, we're struggling to score goals at the moment. We needed to score early on tonight. It's a shame because we should have finished things off sooner in this group.

"We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now and remain completely calm until March.

"We should have won against Bulgaria and had two penalties against Switzerland. These are games that could have finished in our favour. I'm completely confident about the play-offs."

Since beating England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, Mancini's side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those victories coming in qualifying.

Gareth Southgate joked he would have come under pressure from Wayne Rooney's family if he left Harry Kane on to add to his England tally in the 10-0 thrashing of San Marino. 

Kane scored four first-half goals in San Marino on Monday, making him the first England player to achieve that since Ian Wright in 1993 and setting a Three Lions record with 16 goals in a single calendar year. 

The Tottenham striker had equalled the previous benchmark of 12 with a hat-trick against Albania last week, with his efforts at Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle making him just the fourth Three Lions player to register trebles in consecutive games. 

Kane drew level with Gary Lineker in third on England's all-time scoring list with 48 goals, just five shy of Rooney's record, but made way for Reece James in the 63rd minute. 

"If we'd have left him another half an hour … we'd have had Wayne Rooney's family on the phone telling us to get him off," Southgate joked to ITV. 

"He's a phenomenal goalscorer. He's obviously not had the opportunity in some of those games where there have been a lot of goals available. We wanted to give him that chance tonight, and he took it really well." 

With England having secured qualification for the 2022 World Cup with the win, Kane could surpass Rooney's record on the biggest stage of them all in Qatar. 

Asked for his feelings after drawing level with Lineker, he said: "It's fantastic again. Every time I wear an England shirt, I am proud, and whenever I can score goals, it is one of the greatest feelings I can have in my career. It's nice to be among those names, and hopefully we can keep them coming." 

The victory was England's biggest in a competitive away match and means that in 2021 they have won more games (15), scored more goals (52) and kept more clean sheets (14) than in any other calendar year in their history. 

Southgate said: "I've got to credit all our players and staff on a really good year. Even in a game like tonight, you can't do anything about the level of the opposition, but the mentality, the way they played, the way they applied themselves was terrific." 

European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland.

Jorginho's last-gasp penalty miss against Switzerland last time out meant Italy headed into their final Group C game at Windsor Park level on points with the Swiss, ahead only on goal difference.

And while Switzerland managed to beat Bulgaria on Monday, Italy were frustrated by Ian Baraclough's side in Belfast.

A star of the Euro 2020 success, Federico Chiesa went closest to breaking the deadlock for Roberto Mancini's side as Italy – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – had to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Lorenzo Insigne's sublime pass put Giovanni Di Lorenzo through inside the opening 10 minutes, though from a tight angle, the full-back's effort was caught between a cross and a shot, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell able to parry away.

That set the tone for Italy, who had plenty of possession and territory but lacked a cutting edge. Matters would have been made more difficult early in the second half if not for Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With Insigne having dragged wide from a presentable chance, Northern Ireland almost took the lead at the other end – Donnarumma making a superb stop to deny George Saville.

Peacock-Farrell judged a difficult Domenico Berardi free-kick, though was beaten by Chiesa's curling attempt soon after. Unfortunately for Italy, it sailed the wrong side of the upright.

Despite Mancini throwing on the cavalry, Chiesa's chance was the closest Italy went, and they were fortunate Leonardo Bonucci was on hand to clear Conor Washington's late shot off the line.

The Azzurri now face two play-off games in March to try and qualify for the tournament in Qatar.

 

What does it mean? Back down to Earth

Italy’s Euro 2020 euphoria will have been replaced by a real concern history could be set to repeat itself. Since their penalty shoot-out triumph over England at Wembley, Mancini’s side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those coming in qualifying.

The Azzurri lost to Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018. This time, they will have to win two games to progress (a semi-final and a final). They will go into pot two in the draw, alongside the Czech Republic, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the runners-up from Groups D, G and I.

Baraclough’s brilliant defence

Northern Ireland boss Baraclough had a tough ask taking over from Michael O'Neill, but he has retained the resilience and spirit within the squad.

They were out of the qualification picture before Monday’s game, but have gone the entire campaign without conceding a goal at home. Indeed, they have now kept a clean sheet in their past five home qualifiers. It should have been an even more jubilant night, but Washington fluffed his lines late on.

Toothless Italy fall short

Italy have not conceded a single goal in any of their past nine away games in all competitions, but it was at the other end they fell short.

While Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 victory, Mancini must find a way to get his attacking talents firing as they did in the Euros. Only against Sweden (eight), have Italy played more away matches without winning than in Northern Ireland - drawing three and losing once in four games.

What's next?

Neither team will be in action until March, with Italy waiting to see who they will face in the play-offs.

Harry Kane made history as England booked their place at the 2022 World Cup with a dominant 10-0 qualifying victory over San Marino, who finished with 10 men on Monday.

England only needed a point to be guaranteed of finishing top of Group I and booking their place in Qatar, but a win never looked in doubt, with Harry Maguire's header and Filippo Fabbri's own goal preceding a four-goal salvo from Kane. 

The Tottenham striker became the first England player to score more than 12 goals in a calendar year with the first of two penalties, and by the end of the half he had gone from matching Jimmy Greaves' 44 international goals to drawing level with Gary Lineker (48) in third on the Three Lions' all-time scoring list. 

Emile Smith Rowe marked his full debut with a goal before Dante Rossi saw red for San Marino, with Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka compounding San Marino's misery in a non-competitive game.

Maguire scored the opening goal for the second game running when he headed Phil Foden's corner home, and in the 15th minute Saka's scuffed shot was inadvertently poked inside the near post by Fabbri. 

Kane converted from the penalty spot after referee Rade Obrenovic penalised Rossi for handling Foden's acrobatic effort in the box, and the Tottenham striker doubled his tally with a volley from Smith Rowe's delivery. 

Kane completed a 12-minute hat-trick by drilling another spot-kick – awarded after Alessandro D'Addario handled his header – into the top-left corner, and he made it four before half-time with a cool finish at the end of a mazy run. 

Abraham was sent on as one of three half-time substitutes and teed up Smith Rowe in the 57th minute, with Mings looping a first England goal home after Rossi was shown a second yellow card for tripping debutant Conor Gallagher.

Jude Bellingham had a maiden England strike of his own chalked off following a VAR review two minutes later, but Abraham steered in a majestic half-volley and Saka nodded in a 10th to complete the scoring in the 79th minute.

What does it mean? Records tumble for Kane and England 

The new record for England goals in a calendar year now stands at 16 after Kane moved clear of George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) with a clinical first-half display. 

He became just the fourth player to hit a hat-trick in consecutive Three Lions appearances and the first to score four goals in a single game since Ian Wright in November 1993 – also against San Marino. 

England racked up six in the first half for the first time since an 8-2 win over Netherlands in 1946 and finished with 10 for the first time since beating the United States by the same scoreline in 1964.

Southgate brings in more fresh blood 

By handing Aaron Ramsdale and Gallagher their first England caps against San Marino, Gareth Southgate has now given 50 players their senior international debut. The last Three Lions manager to do that was Bobby Robson (64). 

Smith Rowe at home

Smith Rowe became the first Arsenal player to score on his first start for England since Paul Merson in March 1992. He was also the 18th different England goalscorer in 2021 – the most the Three Lions have ever had in a single calendar year.

What's next? 

There is nothing in the schedule for either team in the next international break, though the focus will be friendly matches to build up to the World Cup. 

England captain Harry Kane has set a new record for Three Lions goals in a calendar year by netting his 13th of 2021 against San Marino.

George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) for a long time stood alone with a benchmark dozen in a single year before Kane also tallied 12 in England colours in 2019.

The Tottenham forward reached that mark again at home to Albania on Friday as he netted his fourth international hat-trick.

The 5-0 Wembley win meant England needed only a point at minnows San Marino to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but Kane was keen to feature and add to his total.

"[Kane] is quick to let me know that he hasn't played in those games [against Andorra and San Marino]," manager Gareth Southgate said at the weekend.

In an otherwise experimental line-up on Monday, featuring Emile Smith Rowe from the start for the first time, Kane led the line and got on the scoresheet.

 

Kane netted the visitors' third from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after Harry Maguire's opener and a Filippo Fabbri own goal.

It was England's 45th goal of 2021, also extending a team record at the end of a year that began with a 5-0 home success against San Marino.

Cristiano Ronaldo conceded that Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Serbia was "tough" but vowed that Portugal's hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup are "still very much alive."

Despite an early goal from Renato Sanches in Lisbon, an equaliser from Dusan Tadic and a 90th-minute Aleksandar Mitrovic header saw Serbia leapfrog Portugal to win Group A in World Cup qualifying.

Fernando Santos' men must now go through the play-offs in March if they are to qualify for the showpiece tournament, though captain Ronaldo reassured he still believes his side will qualify for Qatar.

"Football has shown us time and time again that, at times, it is the most winding paths that lead to the most desired outcomes," the 36-year-old posted on Instagram.

"Yesterday's result was tough, but not enough to get us down. The objective of being present at the 2022 World Cup is still very much alive and we know what we have to do to get there. No excuses. Portugal [are] heading to Qatar."

Ronaldo scored six goals in seven games for his country in qualifying, which included a goal against the Republic of Ireland that saw him become the all-time record goalscorer in international football, overtaking Iran's Ali Daei (109).

Portugal head coach Santos played down a gesture made by Ronaldo after the late defeat, insisting that his captain was referencing March's reverse fixture in Belgrade, in which the Manchester United forward was not awarded a stoppage-time goal despite the ball appearing to cross the line in the 2-2 draw.

"Nobody was explaining anything," Santos told reporters when asked about Ronaldo. "He was telling the other guy that there [in Serbia] he had scored a goal at the last minute and that the referee didn't count.

"That's what he was saying at the time. It wasn't a matter for us to be there now. On the field, he said that we scored a goal there and the referee didn't, but it's his outburst. It's perfectly normal."

Gareth Southgate insisted a new contract with England would not impact his side's chances of success at the 2022 World Cup.

Southgate was appointed as England manager in November 2016, leading the Three Lions to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia before making it to the Euro 2020 final in July.

The former Middlesbrough boss signed a four-year contract back in 2016 but had his stay extended to 2022 after England's positive showing in Russia.

That agreement is due to expire after the World Cup in December 2022, with reports suggesting he is expected to pen a new two-year extension to keep him at the helm for Euro 2024 in Germany.

As England head to San Marino on Monday needing just a point to confirm World Cup qualification, Southgate remained adamant that committing his future before the tournament will not disrupt plans for Qatar.

"You would never have a contract if you didn't judge somebody before a tournament, so I think on the back of two tournaments and progress made, that's a more acceptable sort of conversation to be having," Southgate told reporters.

"I think we have tried to do it professionally by focusing on the summer, professionally by focusing on qualification and then we will see where it leads after that."

Southgate was hired after Sam Allardyce's turbulent short reign over the Three Lions, though the Football Association (FA) had valued him long before that as he ascended to the top job after three years with the Under-21s.

Reports in September suggested Southgate had hinted he would be open to returning to club football at some point.

But, for the time being at least, the 51-year-old is solely focused on developing his young squad as they look to first secure qualification and then win their first major trophy since 1966.

"We have responded well to every hurdle that has been thrown at us across a calendar year in which we have had total contrast in terms of the quality of opponent we have played," he added.

"The mentality has been good. That is why in 90 minutes and extra time, we haven't been beaten.

"That is a record we want to keep building on. We have got the best defensive record in Europe, in terms of goals to games. We are fourth in terms of goals scored and chances created. It is a good challenge to try to improve on it [against San Marino]."

England's players have not turned a blind eye to the human rights situation in Qatar, but they will not have a formal conversation about it until after they secure World Cup qualification. 

Concerns over treatment of migrant workers in Qatar have sparked varying levels of protests by national teams from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and other countries. 

While some individual England players have taken high-profile stands on social issues, defender Conor Coady said everyone's first priority for the moment is reaching next year's finals. 

Group I leaders England – who face minnows San Marino – can do so with at least a point on Monday and a group discussion could soon follow. 

"A conversation hasn't been had yet because we've always said – obviously we are seeing quite a lot in the news at the minute – that we make sure we do our job first," Coady told reporters.

"We make sure we try to get to that competition as quickly as we can and then I'm sure the conversation will be had with the players.

"An incredible thing that comes out of this England squad is that people try to make a difference all the time. People are trying to use that platform.

"If there are any way players can help going forward and help in different situations, I am sure us as players and part of the England setup will try to do that.

"At the minute it is tough to speak about it because it is not something we have had a real conversation about.

"We are not robots, we are humans, we are seeing things in the news that are going on every day. But we've always said to ourselves over the last year that the most important thing is to get to where we want to be, which is to Qatar, and honestly speak about the situation when the time is right."

Fernando Santos played down Cristiano Ronaldo's gesture after Portugal missed out on automatic World Cup qualification, though the under-fire head coach guaranteed his team will be in Qatar next year.

Portugal will feature in the World Cup play-offs following Sunday's dramatic 2-1 defeat at home to Serbia in Lisbon.

Requiring only a draw to book their trip to Qatar in Group A, Portugal were on track after Renato Sanches and Dusan Tadic traded goals in the opening half.

However, Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench and scored in the 90th minute to send Serbia to the showpiece tournament.

Portugal superstar and captain Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure afterwards, gesturing as coach Santos approached him on the pitch post-game.

But Santos insisted Ronaldo was referencing March's reverse fixture in Belgrade, where the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was not awarded a stoppage-time goal, despite the ball appearing to cross the line in the 2-2 draw.

"Nobody was explaining anything," Santos told reporters when asked about Ronaldo. "He was telling the other guy that there [in Serbia] he had scored a goal at the last minute and that the referee didn't count.

"That's what he was saying at the time. It wasn't a matter for us to be there now. On the field, he said that we scored a goal there and the referee didn't, but it's his outburst. It's perfectly normal.

"Now no one goes after a game to explain what happened or didn't happen. I went to raise the players' heads."

Ronaldo's Portugal will take part in the play-offs as one of the second-placed seeded teams.

The play-offs will not be contested in two-legged ties, with the semi-finals and final set to take place in March next year.

"The truth is that we did not have a good performance overall," Santos said. "Therefore, we have to say sorry. The Portuguese people are obviously sad. Not more than us, but just like us.

"But my team will be at the Qatar World Cup. That is guaranteed. We just have to compete in the play-offs which is not common for us. Portugal never went through a play-off with me, but they played it on three occasions and qualified for the finals in all of them.

"We will do it again. And I personally took part in a play-off, too. And I also qualified for the World Cup."

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