Football

Perfect birthday gift for Portugal coach Santos

Portugal coach leads team to World Cup spot on his 63rd birthday

Portugal coach Fernando Santos received the perfect birthday gift yesterday morning (Singapore time), after seeing his side beat Switzerland 2-0 to clinch an automatic spot in next year's World Cup in Russia.

The European champions ended their rivals' perfect record in Group B after an own goal by Johan Djourou set them on their way.

With Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva giving one of his best performances for Portugal, the hosts did not even need a goal from captain Cristiano Ronaldo as they pulled level on 27 points with Switzerland and won the group on goal difference.

The unlucky Djourou put the ball into his own net four minutes before half-time and Andre Silva sealed the victory in the 57th minute with his ninth goal of the campaign.

Santos, who turned 63, said: "I always believed we could do it. I believed in the players and fortunately they gave me this present.

"When you have quality and organisation, you are always closer to winning.

"The whole 90 minutes weren't perfect, but fortunately we won and we are going to Russia.

"Today, Portugal showed we have the quality to play against any team."

The Swiss had led the group since beating Portugal 2-0 in Basel in their opening match in September last year and gone on to win all nine matches before yesterday morning's encounter in Lisbon, while Portugal had won their subsequent eight.

Aside from a penalty shoot-out defeat by Chile at the Confederations Cup in June, the defeat by Switzerland was the only competitive game Portugal have lost since Santos took over as coach in September 2014.

Bernardo Silva urged his teammates to keep the momentum going and add the World Cup trophy to their Euro 2016 title.

The 23-year-old said: "We're going to try and win the World Cup. We'll be going into the tournament with the ambition of winning it.

"We go into every game to win. That's our strength and we know when we all think that way, we're nearer to victory.

"Fernando Santos always gives us lots of confidence. This is a fantastic squad."

Switzerland will now enter a play-off over two legs with another European group runner-up next month for a place in Russia. The draw for the play-offs will be held next Tuesday.

Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka admitted that his side had not performed well enough.

"Today, we were somewhere between bad and very bad," he said. - WIRE SERVICES

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