It could be a tough night for Portugal and in typical fashion, they may do it the hard way and win it by the tightest of margins, says Jamie Pacheco.
Portugal v North Macedonia
Tuesday March 29, 19:45
Nervy Portugal welcome back defensive duo
In the end it was easier than many would have thought, a 3-1 scoreline probably a good reflection of the difference in quality between Portugal and Turkey.
But though a two-goal margin win was just about deserved, it doesn’t tell the full story. Portgual were absolutely coasting at 2-0 before returning to bad habits, trying to shut up shop and almost paid the price. They conceded to make it 2-1 and then had a penalty against them, which was missed.
They then scored a very late third to wrap things up and better still, just as all this was going on, Italy were conceding to North Macedonia. So it really was a dramatic couple of minutes in Portuguese football. All far nervier than it needed to be.
Joao Cancelo is available after suspension and Pepe is ready to go after recovering from Covid. They should both slot straight into the team.
Can they do it all over again?
Whatever happens here, North Macedonia have done remarkably well to get this far.
Second in the group was a good effort but taking out the European champions was outstanding.
Yes, they rode their luck a bit as you’d expect, given they were away against such a strong side.
But it was never a case of being completely under the cosh. Most of Italy’s chances were shots from distance or half-chances rather than ones they should have scored and North Macedonia made them pay in the end, a long range strike in injury time sealing the deal.
They’re not going to make it easy for Portugal, but they may need to show a bit more attacking intent this time.
Portugal are 1.211/5 to win this one. The first question is: why exactly are they half the price to beat North Macedonia that they were to beat Turkey?
Well, Turkey were quite disappointing bar a 20 minute period when they were trying to claw themselves back into the game but came into that match in decent form, in addition to enjoying a slightly greater reputation than this lot.
But it’s hard to ignore what they’ve just achieved in taking out Italy, how resilient they were and how impressive they were in making life hard for their opponents.
But there should be a big gulf in class here between a side packed with world-class players and one just finding its feet in international football, despite that shock win over Italy.
So, at a much, much bigger price you can back Portugal to win by exactly one goal.
That’s very much the Portugal way of doing things, and they may even be more cautious about defending what they have if they score first again this time round.
Sportsbook odds of 13/5 are generous enough for me.
If playing this market, unders would definitely be the pick at 2.26/5.
North Macedonia will probably be figuring that a repeat of their tactics against Italy are the way forward: keep it tight for as long as possible, take extra time with both hands if given the chance and then see where they are.
If there was one criticism about their performance on Thursday it’s that they weren’t ambitious enough and things are unlikely to be different here.
Portugal on the other hand won’t be in any sort of rush and this could be a slow-burner.
With a Portugal clean sheet a real possibility and the added possibility of a lack of intent if/when they do go a goal up, this game could well have just one or two goals in it.
Joao Cancelo will be raring to go here after sitting out Thursday’s game due to suspension. He’s been superb this season at Man City and has a fine record for Portugal: five goals in 31 matches.
It’s 13/2 he scores here and that looks a decent price.
A goal scored in each half is a 8/13 chance and if it’s a case of the underdogs running out of steam after Thursday’s exertions with Portugal winning somewhat comfortably, then that could be a good option.
The double comes to 8.4.