ZENICA, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Nov 18, 2009 (AFP) - A second-half strike by Raul Meireles was enough to break Bosnian hearts and send 2006 semi-finalists Portugal through to the World Cup finals on Wednesday.
The Portuguese, once again without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, had won a hard-fought first leg 1-0 courtesy of a close-range header by Bruno Alves on Saturday and again had to be on their mettle before Meireles' effort ensured their place at next summer's showpiece in South Africa.
|Portugal's Pepe (C) and Tiago (R) vies with Bosnia's Zlatan Muslimovic (L) during their WC2010 play-off football match at Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica on November 18, 2009. AFP PHOTO|
Despite enjoying the lion's share of possession in the opening period on a heavy pitch the Boisnians failed to carve out any clear chances as the Portuguese sat back hoping to catch their hosts on the counter in their European zone play-off second leg.
Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, whose team limped through the first half of their qualifying programme prior to a late rally, had insisted his team plays better away than at home.
And ten minutes after the restart Meireles ensured there would be no shredded nerves for the visitors as he took a pass from Manchester United star Nani and slipped a low, precise shot past Kenan Hasagic in the Bosnian goal.
"These marathons are only over after the final whistle and I want to thank my players for showing such spirit," said a relieved Queiroz afterwards.
Meireles saluted the team's attitude.
"Our play and our attitude were the most important things out there. The pitch was cutting up badly and it was not always possible to play well - but we won, we are through and we are happy. We always believed in ourselves," Meireles insisted.
Bosnian dangerman Edin Dzeko, whose goals had been instrumental in taking his country this far, was getting little change out of the Portuguese defence and was chiefly in evidence following the goal for getting himself booked.
Minutes earlier Nani himself had come close to breaking the deadlock at the Bilino Polje Stadium but Hasagic blocked well with his legs.
Zlatan Muslimovic tried valiantly to rouse the Bosnians, who enjoyed a late run to land runners-up spot in Spain's group, edging out Turkey and Belgium, but his probing runs produced no end product.
Portugal sent Edinho on for Nani with 18 minutes remaining after Meireles had first sent an effort skidding just wide before Vedad Ibisevic appealed in vain for a penalty at the other end after tangling with Paulo Ferreira.
Almost immediately, the hosts then found themselves down to ten men as midfielder Sejad Salihovic was dismissed.
The red card brought fury on the terraces and the match briefly came to a halt with one of the linesmen appearing to have been struck by an object thrown from the crowd.
Veteran coach Miroslav Blazevic, who memorably led neighbouring Croatia to third place in the 1998 finals, urged his men on for a final push, Miralem Pjanic scuffing a final chance, but the Portuguese, who introduced Deco for Simao for the closing 11 minutes, held firm.