ZENICA, Bosnia - Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz could afford to breathe a sigh of relief after his team completed a remarkable World Cup recovery by overcoming Bosnia on Wednesday to reach next year's finals.
Like in their patchy group stage campaign, Portugal looked unconvincing and wobbly at times in the two-legged playoff but, despite the absence of injured winger Cristiano Ronaldo, they were good enough to secure a 2-0 aggregate win over the plucky Bosnians.
"As I have always said, marathons only finish at the end, when the final whistle has gone," Queiroz told reporters after a 1-0 second leg win in the cauldron of Zenica's Bilino Polje crammed stadium.
"It was a long journey from the beginning to here in this final stage, with some hiccups on the way, but always with the conviction and the certainty that we were moving in the right direction.
A place in the 2010 finals looked way beyond Portugal's reach a few months ago. After starting their Group One campaign with a win over Malta they lost at home to Denmark then produced three successive goalless draws - including at home to Albania.
The Bosnians hit the woodwork twice in the final minute of the first leg in Lisbon and were left to rue those misses, as they never looked like overturning the deficit despite the support of their fanatical 15,000 fans behind them in Zenica.
Midfielder Raul Meireles crowned Portuguese domination of the match with a crisp finish after a flowing team move and said the nervy moments his team had endured would take a back seat to the joy of qualifying for next year's finals. "Of course I am satisfied with the goal, but I think the most important thing was the team and the attitude we showed on a very difficult field, the state of the pitch was terrible and our team was able to overcome that," said Queiroz.
"It's not always possible to play well, but we managed to win, we are in the World Cup and we are very happy about that.
"The celebrations on the pitch were great, but I think we have time to celebrate even more."
Bosnia coach Miroslav Blazevic, who guided Croatia to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals, declined to answer whether a painful elimination was his swansong.
"It could be, but swans sing their final song for a very long time," he told reporters.
"I am a demoralised old man at this point in time and I have failed to accomplish what I set out to do, but I don't want to make a hasty decision.
"On the other hand, I am also very proud of the team spirit we have built here and the great ride to the playoffs, where we missed four key players after the first leg in Lisbon.
"It is never easy to chase the game against the likes of Portugal, but overturning a 1-0 deficit would not have been an impossible mission if we had been at full strength.comments