Portugal got off to a winning start in Poland with a 1-0 victory against South Korea in Bielsko-Biala. The two top scorers from the successful U19 European Championship campaign combined in the 7th minute as João Filipe released Francisco Trincão who slotted home.
Hélio Sousa’s side were heavy favourites before kick off and many expected the 1989 & 1991 champions to record a convincing win. It didn’t eventuate due to a number of factors, primarily South Korea’s dogged five man defensive line and organised approach.
Next up are record six time champions Argentina who defeated South Africa 5-2 in Tychy. The South Americans were the beneficiaries of two VAR decisions in the space of three second half minutes, Fernando Batista’s side going 2-1 up from the penalty spot and a man up after Keenan Phillips received a straight red card.
Let’s analyse Portugal’s situation ahead of an important match against Argentina in Bielsko-Biala on Tuesday.
Strong defence and reinforcements to arrive
Portugal’s central defensive partnership is a familiar one with Diogo Queirós and Diogo Leite ever present in Portugal’s 2016 U17 European Championship victory and coming through the youth ranks at FC Porto. Florentino Luis broke up play from defensive midfield and all three players will be important against Argentina.
Portugal did a decent job marking South Korea’s star player Lee Kang-In after the Valencia youngster found far too much space early on. Argentina are not reliant on any one player despite Ezequiel Barco’s standout performance against South Korea.
Goalkeeper João Virginia appeared nervous early on, spilling a cross and a loose throw inviting pressure. He did little wrong for the remainder of the match but could be under threat from Diogo Costa who recently joined the squad after being in Porto’s Portuguese Cup Final squad.
Positive attacking play
The main positive to take out of the South Korea victory was the attacking play from Francisco Trincão, Rafael Leão and João Filipe. Trincão showed great anticipation, speed and composure to score the winning goal before Rafael Leão went close with an overhead bicycle kick.
The Lille striker then flew past Lee Ji-Sol and latched onto Filipe’s through ball with his shot saved. Leão was at it again not long after, collecting Miguel Luís’ lovely pass and squaring for Trincão, the Braga starlet finding the net but Leão ruled offside.
Clear cut chances were hard to come by for the remainder of the match, but there were enough in the opening exchanges to suggest that Portugal’s front three can cause significant damage. Filipe recorded the assist for Trincão and showed his class on occasions, but the Benfica youngster was guilty of some poor turnovers and was the first player substituted for Lazio winger Pedro Neto.
Portugal’s build up play was sluggish at times and the midfield lost control in the closing stages. It was surprising Hélio Sousa waited until the 83rd minute to replace Miguel Luís with Nuno Pina. South Korea pushed for an equaliser, headed over from a corner and cut through on a couple of occasions without troubling Virginia.
Portugal are unlikely to come up against a defensive flat back five in their final two group games which will definitely be in their favour. That will allow Felipe, Trincão and Leão more room to operate and create goal scoring opportunities.
English Premier League full-backs Rúben Vinagre and Diogo Dalot will know they can improve and have to make it count on the pitch. They are vital to Sousa’s plans and need to show more consistency with their passing accuracy.
It’s all about attitude
Both managers outlined the importance of attitude and dealing with pressure in the post match press conference. Hélio Sousa said it’s normal to be anxious and his players felt difficulties adapting to the pressure associated with being one of the U20 World Cup favourites.
Sousa said his team have to manage expectations and can’t rely on previous success to get them through. “We have to be realistic about what we are doing and not think about it so much. It’s not about what we have accomplished so far but what we are doing moving forward.”
Argentina a significant challenge
Argentina’s squad is filled with top class talent. The South Americans lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against South Africa with Ezequiel Barco, Cristian Ferreira and Pedro De La Vega operating behind striker Julián Álvarez.
Barco smashed home a penalty and scored a sublime volley, substitute striker Adolfo Gaich assisting Álvarez and scoring the final goal in a 5-2 win. Fellow substitutes Agustín Urzi and Agustín Almendra would be starters for most nations at the tournament.
Argentine manager Fernando Batista was another who discussed nervousness and anxiety but said it should ease after the first match. He acknowledged that having such a deep and talented squad means he can introduce players off the bench who have a range of different characteristics in order to destabilise their opponents.
No reason for fear
South Africa matched Argentina until having a man sent off which will provide Portugal with plenty of confidence. The South Americans will attempt to play on the front foot which will present Portugal with counter attacking opportunities.
Portugal have a collective winning mentality gained from successive European Championship victories and the individual quality to break open any defence. The Argentina match represents a fantastic opportunity to effectively secure a spot in the knockout rounds.