DUBLIN (AP) — Portugal held on for a 0-0 draw at Ireland to take over first place in its World Cup qualifying group on Thursday.
The draw leaves Portugal ahead of Serbia on goal difference ahead of their decisive match on Sunday in Portugal.
Both teams are tied on 17 points but Portugal has scored three more goals than the Serbians.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, while the second-place finishers will have to go through a playoff with the other runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League.
Portugal played a man down from the 82nd after veteran defender Pepe was shown a second yellow card that will keep him from playing against Serbia.
At age 38, Pepe became the oldest player to start for Portugal, surpassing former goalkeeper Vítor Damas by 13 days. It was his 123rd appearance, the fourth-most for the Portuguese national team.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a few good chances for the visitors but couldn’t capitalize on them.
“We didn’t have many chances but could’ve scored with the ones we created,” Portugal midfielder João Moutinho said. “We didn’t get the victory but we reached our goal of being in first place, which is what we wanted.”
Serbia did not play a qualifier on Thursday. It defeated World Cup host Qatar 4-0 in a friendly in Belgrade.
Gerson Rodrigues scored twice as third-place Luxembourg defeated last-place Azerbaijan 3-1 for its second win in the group.
Azerbaijan played a man down from the 21st after Tellur Mutallimov was sent off for a vicious foul on Olivier Thill while trying to intercept a long pass. Mutallimov’s had his left leg fully stretched when he struck Thill near the sideline.
Substitute Sébastien Thill also scored for Luxembourg.
Azerbaijan finished its qualifying campaign with one point from a draw at Ireland.
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