Cristiano Ronaldo hit the mark as Portugal beat Serbia 4-2 on Saturday to clinch their first win during qualification for UEFA Euro 2020, climbing two places up to second in Group B.
William Carvalho was an unlikely provider of the breakthrough when he poked Portugal in front following a goalkeeping error. Goncalo Guedes doubled their advantage just before the hour mark, helping secure what could prove to be a pivotal qualifying win.
Nikola Milenkovic halved the defecit before Ronaldo struck to extend Portugal's lead to two again. Aleksandar Mitrovic again pegged the visitors back, but Serbia's revival attempt proved insufficient after Bernardo Silva netted Portugal's fourth at Red Star Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia.
Portugal have now played three matches in qualifying—two fewer than leaders Ukraine—and trail the eastern European nation by eight points.
Serbia coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic made the decision to start without Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic—whose preparations for the season were hit by an ankle injury—and opted to field Fulham's Mitrovic as a lone front man.
It's a decision he perhaps came to regret as the home outfit looked short of firepower in the first half, finding the target with one of just two attempts at goal. On the bright side, they also allowed Portugal to hit the target with only one of their eight first-half attempts.
Filip Kostic unearthed some space down the left flank just before the half-hour mark and sent a warning shot to Portugal No. 1 Rui Patricio when his attempted cross almost whizzed in at the far post.
Ronaldo was found wanting at the other end seconds later when he missed a gaping opportunity to score the opener, missing the ball altogether as it pinged off his standing leg.
Serbia goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic was left red-faced when his failure to claim a cross left the hosts exposed in front of their own net, with Carvalho on hand to capitalise.
The Real Betis midfielder scored just twice in his first 56 appearances for Portugal, and he won't bag many goals simpler than Saturday's breakthrough (UK only):
Kostic continuously saw success down Serbia's left flank and had opportunities to craft an equaliser before the break, missing the mark on several occasions.
Portugal had a grip on the momentum of the match following their opener, though, and Guedes showed fanciful footwork to dig out a second for the travelling team on the 58-minute mark.
Bernardo Silva, Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes each had key touches in the buildup to the goal, but Valencia star Guedes had it all to do in shifting the ball onto his left before unleashing inside the far post.
The pace of the game dropped in the second half as Santos' side looked to take some sting out and secure a much-needed three points.
The ploy didn't pan out, though, as Serbia roared into the fixture with about 30 minutes remaining, spurred on after Milenkovic rose highest to get them on the board almost unmarked (UK only):
The prodigious Joao Felix came on as a replacement for goalscorer Guedes and provided some welcome energy on Portugal's left wing, helping take some attention off Ronaldo in the run-up to his goal.
The Juventus star beat the offside trap and was found in space by Silva, just about reaching the ball in time to poke in a third and restore some breathing space for the guests (UK only):
The eventual scoreline meant Ronaldo's wasn't a game-winner as such, though it underlined his ongoing importance to Portugal's scoring threat:
A manic end to the match saw both teams score in the last five minutes. Mitrovic blitzed an unstoppable effort past Patricio and into the roof of the net, but it was Silva who ended up having the final say (U.S. only):
Little can be said for either side's defence—particularly in the final 30 minutes or so—but Portugal won't care after collecting their first win of the qualification campaign.
Not only that, but the reigning kings of Europe will be delighted to see Ronaldo open his account, hoping his strike is the first of more to come in Group B.
Both teams will be back in action on Tuesday, when Portugal travel to face Lithuania and Serbia make the trip to Luxembourg.