England defeated Portugal 2-1 to claim their first U19 European Championship at the Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Georgia.
The game came to life in the second half, goals from Easah Suliman and Lukas Nmecha either side of an own goal from Dujon Sterling securing victory and completing a remarkably successful run by England’s youth teams this summer.
Despite falling at the final hurdle, coach Hélio Sousa, who led this same group of players to victory in last year’s U17 Euro, expressed his pride in his team’s performance at the end of the match.
Portugal begin well
Portugal started the brightest, taking the initiative with wingers Filipe and Dju looking to get behind England’s defence. Captain Rui Pires was doing a good job keeping Mason Mount quiet during the early stages, but there was considerable danger coming down England’s right edge as they looked to hit Portugal on the counter attack.
Isaac Buckley-Ricketts’ attacking runs was pegging Abdu Conté back with Dujon Sterling putting additional pressure on Portugal’s defence. João Queirós made an important tackle on Buckley-Ricketts as he raced through on goal, the pacey winger at it again after bursting into the box, cutting the ball back for Mount with Diogo Dalot blocking the shot.
Buckley-Ricketts and Mount combined again soon after. Buckley-Ricketts was afforded time and space to run at the Portuguese defence, another cross finding Mount and another effort blocked. Mount then found Ryan Sessegnon who dragged his effort wide.
Dalot was proving effective at both ends of the pitch, offering the Seleção an attacking outlet on the right wing and popping up before the break with a clearing header from a dangerous Sterling cross. Despite the blocked shots and half chances from England, the first half was a tight affair with both teams looking to stay compact, neither goalkeeper required to make a save.
A game of two halves
The game sprung to life after the break with England taking the lead. Rui Pires fouled Lukas Nmecha in a dangerous position, Mason Mount’s free kick rebounded off the post, Easah Suliman reacting quickest and heading into an open net.
Portugal should have equalised minutes later, João Filipe’s free kick falling to Meshach Dju a yard out but the winger somehow managed to shoot over the bar. Fortunately Portugal didn’t have to wait long to get level however, Abdu Conté’s cross comically turned into his own net by Dujon Sterling.
Portugal then enjoyed a period of sustained pressure, Domingos Quina’s shot saved with Aaron Ramsdale called into action soon after to stop an effort by Rui Pedro. Conté was becoming more involved after being shackled in the first half, his effort from distance cleared by Sterling.
From out of nowhere though England regained the lead. Portugal tried to be too cute in their own half, the Young Lions winning possession through Mount who raced forward and displayed great vision by unselfishly squaring to Nmecha who couldn’t miss.
Portugal unable to draw level again
With both managers rushing to the substitutes bench, Hélio Sousa was forced to make his final substitution with Abdu Conté forced off due to injury. Portugal continued to make chances as England dropped deep, Quina shooting wide before Tayo Edun was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 86th minute.
Playing with 10 men England dropped even deeper. Miguel Luis shot into the side netting as the match entered stoppage time, Madi Queta’s effort from a corner cleared with Diogo Costa given an unlikely chance to be a hero, the goalkeeper with the last chance of the game flying off his shoulder.
Portugal battled well throughout with England showing organisation and commitment in defence. Despite striker Rui Pedro being continually isolated up front, he created chances as the game opened up. Diogo Dalot was very good throughout the tournament and showed what a bright prospect he is with another outstanding performance in the final.
Hélio Sousa summed it up perfectly after the match, saying: “We tried to score, many times, and created some more chances to make it 2-2 but we weren’t clinical. We weren’t efficient enough in front of goal today but I’m very proud. We were magnificent, I’m very proud of them, but we couldn’t get the second goal – England did.”
Exciting English youngsters
England’s first European U19 title caps off a remarkable run for their youth sides and provides plenty of encouragement for the future. U-20 World Cup winners, European U17 Championship runners-up and European U21 Championship semi-finalists, time will tell how many of the players involved make the step up for club and country throughout the next decade. If you want a chance to experience that winning feeling, PlayFortuna.
Manager Keith Downing said after the match: “It’s created a huge momentum this year. We have heavily invested in St Georges’ Park in the last five years. What we need to do now is sustain this success and continue working through all the age groups. It’s been a big year for us and we’ll enjoy it, but we’ll continue to work.”
By Matthew Marshall (Twitter: @noobzcorp)