It proved to be a successful evening for Manchester United’s international stars on Thursday evening as the line-up for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar took a step closer towards being finalized.
The European nations who had failed to qualify for the tournament via their respective qualifying groups participated in the European play-off semi-finals, whilst the latest batch of South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) fixtures took place. There was success across the board for United’s players involved, ranging from international debuts to securing a place in Qatar.
Starting with Portugal, they secured their place in a play-off final with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Turkey, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo’s dream of lifting the World Cup is still alive. Goals from Otavio, Diogo Jota and Matheus Nunes sealed the 2016 European Championship winners’ spot in the Path C final.
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Despite not getting themselves on the scoresheet, United trio Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo all started. Dalot and Ronaldo completed the full 90 minutes but Fernandes was withdrawn and replaced by William Carvalho with ten minutes remaining, just five minutes before Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz missed a penalty to make it 2-2 and claim his second goal of the night.
Portugal will now face North Macedonia in a straight shoot-out on Tuesday evening to reach the World Cup. They stunned Italy with a last-gasp 1-0 win in Palermo, meaning Roberto Mancini’s side have failed to qualify for a second successive World Cup .
Elsewhere in the European play-offs, Wales moved to within one game of their first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1958 with a 2-1 win over Austria in Cardiff. Gareth Bale netted a superb brace to set up a tie with either Scotland or Ukraine, which is likely to be played in June.
United youngster Dylan Levitt, who is currently on loan at Dundee United, did not feature, but he watched the contest unfold from the substitutes bench. He will be hoping to be named in Rob Page’s squad if Wales reach the finals.
Meanwhile, Reds ace Anthony Elanga earned his first senior cap for Sweden as they also moved to within one win of Qatar. They beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in extra-time to set up a play-off final with Poland.
Elanga stepped off the bench with just five minutes of extra-time left to play, replacing Emil Forsberg. The Swedes won thanks to a goal from Robin Quaison just five minutes earlier.
In South America, both Facundo Pellistri and Edinson Cavani played their part as Uruguay qualified for the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Peru. Pellistri, who has struggled at loan club Alaves this season, started the contest and Cavani stepped off the bench with 23 minutes left to play.
The two-time World Cup winners, who beat Peru courtesy of a first-half goal from Giorgian de Arrascaeta, have qualified with a game to spare. They face Chile in their final group fixture next Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the South American qualifiers, United midfield ace Fred played 82 minutes as Brazil swept Chile aside, winning 4-0. The South American giants had already qualified for the finals and the win over Chile was nothing more than a routine triumph.
Alex Telles, meanwhile, was an unused substitute. Brazil face Bolivia in their next match on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in non-competitive action, Scott McTominay played the full 90 minutes as Scotland drew 1-1 with Poland at Hampden Park in a friendly. The Scots were leading up until the 94th minute through Kieran Tierney’s goal, but the Poles earned a draw thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Krzysztof Piatek.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.