Ukraine, ranked 30th in the world, and Serbia, one place lower in FIFA’s list, were thought to be easy opponents for the current European Champions but provide a stern test for Christiano Ronaldo and his illustrious companions.
Having not featured for Portugal since their defeat to Uruguay at World Cup 2018, Ronaldo was back for Friday’s encounter against Ukraine but failed to inspire a victory despite the team’s obvious superiority.
Shakhtar Donetsk keeper Andriy Pyatov played a key part in frustrating the hosts, twice denying Ronaldo in the first-half before pulling off an exceptional save from Andre Silva.
Pyatov did well to tip over Pepe’s ballistic effort, though he was fortunate that the offside flag spared his blushes moments later, after his failure to deal with a cross allowed William Carvalho to head in.
Portugal were almost made to pay for their wasted efforts with four minutes remaining but Ruben Dias made a vital block to prevent Junior Moraes clinching the points for Ukraine against the run of play.
Vitaliy Mykolenko risked undoing Ukraine’s work in stoppage time when he clumsily bundled into Dyego Sousa, though Portugal’s appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears.
Seventy-two hours later the fans returned to the Estádio da Luz for the game against Serbia where the visitors took a shock lead with their first attack.
Gacinovi was put clean through with a neat chip over the Portuguese backline from Tadic.
Patrício rushed out to clear the danger but succeeded only in body-checking Gacinovic with the referee pointing to the spot after a moment’s hesitation. Dusan Tadic stepped and sent the Wolves keeper the wrong way.
Ronaldo was then denied by a brilliant save from Dmitrovic who then deflected a Rafa Silva effort past the post.
Portugal then lost their talisman on the half-hour mark as Ronaldo pulled up with a problem in his right-leg. Pizzi took his place and the tempo of the game slowed markedly.
It was Porto’s Danilo who came to the rescue with a sensational goal.
Receiving the ball in midfield, he took advantage of a hesitant Serbian defence and charged past several bemused defenders before unleashing a blistering shot into the top right corner.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the Euro 2020 finals but if Portugal were to miss out, they are guaranteed a play-off place after reaching the Nations League semi-finals.