Portugal became the 20th team to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023 as they secured a 16-16 draw in a nail-biting deciding match of the Final Qualification Tournament against USA.
Os Lobos only needed a draw at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai to advance to a second Rugby World Cup, thanks to their superior points difference, and Samuel Marques secured it with the last kick of the match.
It means Portugal will take their place in Pool C at RWC 2023, alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia.
"It's hard to explain, it's one of the best feelings in the world," Portugal captain Tomás Appleton said. "For the rugby community this is amazing, we've been missing [from Rugby World Cup] for quite some time and we need a new generation to inspire the kids."
Earlier on Friday, Hong Kong mounted a second-half comeback to beat Kenya 22-18 and claim third place in the standings.
Portugal stun USA
USA had only failed to qualify for one previous Rugby World Cup, in South Africa in 1995, and they took the lead in Dubai as AJ MacGinty sent a third-minute penalty through the uprights.
They soon lost winger Nate Augsperger to the sin-bin, though, and Portugal responded to score the opening try of the match.
Winger Raffaele Storti took a pass from Nuno Sousa Guedes wide on the right and cut back inside to exploit the space created by Augsperger’s absence and sprint over the line. Marques added the conversion to give Os Lobos a four-point lead.
That is the way the score remained until Portugal centre José Lima was shown a yellow card in the 21st minute and MacGinty was successful with the resulting penalty.
Uncharacteristically, the Bristol Bears fly-half failed with an effort from the tee that would have given his side the lead on the half-hour mark.
MacGinty rediscovered his range on the stroke of half-time, however, responding to an earlier successful Marques penalty to make the score 10-9 in Os Lobos’ favour at the break.
Marques restored Portugal’s four-point lead 10 minutes into the second half, although it came in between two missed kicks that would have stretched their advantage further.
And Os Lobos were made to pay for that profligacy as Kapeli Pifeleti Jr. burrowed over from close range on the hour mark.
The try gave USA the lead for the first since the eighth minute and MacGinty extended it to 16-13 with a routine conversion. Os Lobos also lost prop Francisco Fernandes to the sin-bin for an earlier infringement but did not concede in his time off the pitch.
Portugal only needed a draw to advance to RWC 2023, though, and Marques stepped up to deliver it with the final kick of the match.
Hong Kong comeback seals third
Debutant Jak Lam scored the match-winning try as Hong Kong overcame an 11-point half-time deficit to beat Kenya 22-18 and claim third place.
Both sides had lost their opening two matches at The Sevens Stadium meaning neither could qualify for RWC 2023, but that did not impact on the effort on show.
Kenya fly-half Geoffrey Ominde missed an early penalty attempt but after Hong Kong winger Matthew Worley was sent to the sin-bin, the Simbas did take the lead.
Centre John Okoth burst through a gap in the Hong Kong defence to score the opening try but Ominde was again off target with the conversion.
That allowed Hong Kong, who sat 11 places above Kenya in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini ahead of kick-off, to hit the front when number eight Luke van der Smit crossed in the 18th minute and Gregor McNeish converted.
Worley thought he had scored a second Hong Kong try 10 minutes later, but his effort was ruled out for a foot in touch.
From that moment on, the half belonged to Kenya. Jacob Ojee scored a well-worked try minutes later, which Ominde converted before adding a penalty to stretch the Simbas’ lead to eight points.
Hong Kong ended the half down to 14 players for a second time, as full-back Nathan De Thierry was shown a yellow card, and the Simbas took advantage as a second Ominde penalty gave them an 18-7 lead at half-time.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, though, Hong Kong started the second half strongly and Sean Taylor’s try, converted by McNeish, cut their deficit to a single point.
Kenya lost fly-half Ominde to the sin-bin in the 54th minute and thought they had conceded a third try almost immediately but Worley again saw his effort disallowed, this time for offside at the lineout.
Darwin Mukidze missed a penalty that would have stretched the Kenyan lead, before scrum-half Bryn Phillips became the third Hong Kong player to see yellow.
It was Hong Kong who scored during his time off the field, however, as replacement hooker Lam pounced following a lineout drive to score his first international try less than four minutes after coming on to win his maiden cap.
Kenya enjoyed some late attacking possession but a knock-on cost them as they were driving towards the line, bringing an end to the match and confirming victory for Hong Kong.