Portugal edged closer to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after holding on for a 0-0 draw against Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
In a game lacking in clear cut goalscoring opportunities, Cristiano Ronaldo’s header in the second half which flew narrowly wide was the visitors' best chance to win the game.
The result means Group A leaders Portugal will host Serbia on Sunday in a winner-takes-all match, with both locked on 17 points at the summit, but will do so without Pepe who was sent off in the 82nd minute after picking up two yellow cards. For Ireland, Stephen Kenny’s side remain in fourth on six points.
The first half was a scrappy, physical affair in which Ireland held their own against their loftier opponents. Callum Robinson’s cross-cum-shot was well parried by Rui Patricio in the 27th minute.
For all of Portugal’s possession dominance and Ronaldo’s pouting, it was Ireland who came close to scoring again just before the break. Robinson’s cross found Chiedozie Ogbene at the near post but he could not steer his header on target.
The first significant chance of a tightly contested second half fell to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. Andre Silva picked out Ronaldo in the penalty box, but his header into the ground into the ground bounced inches past Gavin Bazunu’s right post.
Ireland had another chance to break the deadlock in the 77th minute as Ogbene fed a ball into Enda Stevens’ path, but the Sheffield United defender blazed his shot over the bar.
And with only eight minutes of normal time left, Pepe’s flailing arm caught Callum Robinson in the face and he was subsequently shown a second yellow card. It leaves manager Fernando Santos with a selection dilemma heading into Portugal’s crunch clash in Lisbon on Sunday.
As Ireland pushed for a late winner, Ronaldo almost stole the show on the counter-attack in the final seconds of the match, but his fierce shot from a tight angle was parried away by Bazunu.
TALKING POINT – A quiet night for Ronaldo
It was a game bereft of quality, but the two greatest chances of the match fell to the United striker.
He could not make it 116 goals for Portugal, but ultimately it was a result that the lacklustre visitors will have been pleased with as they head into the Serbia game at the Estadio da Luz knowing victory will seal their place at Qatar.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a quiet game in Dublin
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH - Chiedozie Ogbene
The 24-year-old Rotherham United winger more than held his own on only his third cap for Ireland.
He was Ireland's main attacking outlet in the game with his pace causing makeshift left-back Diogo Dalot plenty of problems, and he almost found the net in the first half.
With the Ireland squad severely lacking players with pace overall, Ogbene could have a significant part to play for the national team in the future.
Chiedozie Ogbene impressed for Republic of Ireland
43' - CHANCE! Ireland are finishing the half strongly! Hendrick is tackled by Semedo before he can get a shot away. Robinson's cross from the left finds Ogbene at the near post, but he nods over the bar!
66' - JUST WIDE! The best chance of the match falls to Ronaldo! Silva's cross from the right finds Ronaldo at the far post, but his header into the ground bounces just wide of Bazunu's right post!
81' - RED CARD! PEPE IS SENT OFF! Portugal will be without the experienced defender for their winner-takes-all clash against Serbia on Sunday! His flailing arm catches Robinson in the face and is shown a second yellow.
90+5' - BIG CHANCE! Ronaldo goes for goal himself from a tight angle but he fires it straight at Bazunu!