Portugal secured their spot in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday night as a Bruno Fernandes brace earned a 2-0 victory over North Macedonia in Porto.
An encouraging start by the visiting side might have suggested a laborious evening for the Selecao but, in truth, the momentous occasion only looked like going Portugal's way as they established control early on and overcame spirited opposition to ensure a sixth consecutive World Cup appearance.
Cristiano Ronaldo described this match as a matter of 'life and death' prior to kick off, although was found wanting with the game's first clear-cut chance presented to him on a silver platter.
Despite North Macedonia's visible composure and confidence, the hosts looked the likeliest to notch an opener in the opening stages. When put clean through on goal by Otavio, however, Ronaldo could only drag wide of the far stick.
For all the resilience and heart the visitors showed though, the deadlock-breaker originated from a criminal bit of decision making in defence just after the half-hour mark.
Right-back Stefan Ristovski's misjudged long ball across the back four allowed Fernandes to capitalise and set Ronaldo away. Opting to wait for his Manchester United teammate's support rather than take on the chance himself, the skipper returned the ball to Fernandes (via the legs of Visar Musliu), who clinically rifled home a first-time finish to set Portugal on their way.
North Macedonia responded well to falling behind but, despite a very slight resurgence following the mid-way interval, found themselves with an insurmountable mountain to climb after 65 minutes.
Fernandes was once again central, this time starting a ruthlessly stunning and sweeping breakaway move before racing into the box, latching onto Diogo Jota's inch-perfect cross, and producing a fantastic half-volleyed finish to effectively seal the deal.
To the raucous party atmosphere that subsequently engulfed the Estadio do Dragao, Fernando Santos' side was able to comfortably see the game out at their own pace, dealing with North Macedonia's efforts to salvage something very calmly.
The 2-0 win ensures that Portugal will take their place in Qatar at the end of their year for a sixth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals. Santos and his players will discover their group-stage opponents when the draw takes place on Friday.
PORTUGAL PLAYER RATINGS - WORLD CUP PLAY-OFF FINAL
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Diogo Costa (GK) - 6/10 - Had very little to do throughout the evening; counted more as a fan than a player, to be honest.
Joao Cancelo (RB) - 6/10 - Comparatively quiet, but still managed to put in a typically satisfying all-round performance.
Pepe (CB) - 8/10 - Read play so well, showing his experience to always find himself in the correct position to cut out the danger. Top-notch defensive display.
Danilo Pereira (CB) - 7/10 - Composed defending throughout, while also carrying the ball out of defence very progressively.
Nuno Mendes (LB) - 6/10 - Lethal on the front foot in the first half, delivering some wicked balls into the front men before quietening down after the break.
Bruno Fernandes (CM) - 8/10 - Started woefully, but who cares? Produced two excellent finishes to send his nation through to the World Cup finals.
Joao Moutinho (CM) - 7/10 - Showed good industry, doing a great job in breaking up play and keeping things ticking along smoothly with his metronomic style.
Bernardo Silva (AM) - 6/10 - Pressed energetically and floated around very nicely but, with the exception of a couple of sparkling moments, failed to impact proceedings all that much.
Otavio (RW) - 4/10 - A disappointingly quiet evening after his brilliant performance last time out - just couldn't get in the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST) - 6/10 - Wasted a glorious chance to break the deadlock early on but produced a good assist for the eventual opener. Another influential showing without being in the action too much.
Diogo Jota (LW) - 7/10 - Flashed his brilliance in occasional bursts before laying the ball on a plate for Fernandes' second with a sumptuous delivery into the box.
William Carvalho (CM) - 6/10 - An extra dash of tenacity at the heart of the side, helping to screen and stifle the opposition's desperate advances in the latter stages.
Rafael Leao (LW) - 6/10 - Made a couple of fantastic surging runs towards goal, showing brilliant pace and physicality.
Joao Felix (RW) - N/A
Matheus Nunes (CM) - N/A
Vitinha (CM) - N/A