Portugal booked their ticket to the 2021 UEFA European U21 Championship after a 2-1 win against Cyprus. The visitors rarely threatened after taking a surprise lead in Parchal, goals to Gedson Fernandes and Diogo Queirós getting it done for Rui Jorge’s side.
Portugal U21 2-1 Cyprus U21
Portugal were heavy favourites in Parchal but found themselves behind in the 2nd minute. Thierry Correia conceded a free kick in a seemingly harmless position, but a long ball into the mixer saw Panayiotis Artymatas rise highest and head the ball past Diogo Costa.
Diogo Queirós hit the post in the 17th minute after Rafael Leão headed a corner in his direction. Jota was finding plenty of space on the right wing and delivering a multitude of crosses, one of which fell to Leão who saw a fierce shot saved by Antreas Paraskevas.
Portugal were huffing and puffing but lacked penetration and a cutting edge against a Cyprus side content with defending and counter attacks. Gedson was booked for a late foul as their frustration intensified.
Just when it seemed Portugal would go into the break 1-0 down they received a lifeline.
Thierry Correia got around Jack Roles and surged into the box, the Burton Albion midfielder making a clumsy challenge with referee Barbeno Luca pointing to the spot. Gedson’s penalty was initially saved by Paraskevas before the ball trickled an inch over the line.
Jota and Gedson had shots saved as Portugal went into half time with all the momentum.
Rui Jorge overhauled the attack with João Mário and Gonçalo Ramos coming on for Rafael Leão and Dany Mota. Diogo Queiros headed a corner over the bar and Diogo Leite headed Vitinha’s cross wide, but it wasn't long before Portugal took control.
Diogo Queirós unmarked
It was an identical corner routine that saw Queiros hit the post in the first half. Florentino Luis was the provider this time, heading Jota’s corner towards Portugal’s captain who made no mistake from point blank range.
Nuno Mendes was terrorising the Cypriot defence who were looking ragged. Pedro Gonçalves replaced Jota in the 69th minute before Paraskevas kept his side in the game. Gedson’s cross found Gonçalo Ramos, the Benfica striker taking a touch, turning and firing a powerful volley that the Cyprus goalkeeper tipped over the bar.
Daniel Paroutis shot over from distance but Portugal’s defence was rarely threatened. Nuno Mendes made way for Fábio Vieira in the 82nd minute, Gedson firing wide in added time but it was job done as Portugal guaranteed a place in Hungary and Slovenia.
Portugal secured their eighth win in nine matches but remain three points behind Group 7 leaders Netherlands. Rui Jorge’s side play their final qualifier against the Dutch in Portimão on Wednesday.
Portugal have a far inferior goal difference but can still top the group if they overturn a 4-2 deficit they incurred against the Netherlands in Doetinchem. If that doesn’t happen, Portugal will still qualify as one of the five best runners-up.
Portugal U21 Line Up: Diogo Costa - Thierry Correia, Diogo Queirós, Diogo Leite, Nuno Mendes (Fábio Vieira 82’) - Vitinha, Florentino Luís, Gedson Fernandes - Jota (Pedro Gonçalves 69’), Dany Mota (Gonçalo Ramos 46’), Rafael Leão (João Mário 46’)
Unused substitutes: Luís Maximiano, Diogo Dalot, Tomás Tavares, Pedro Pereira, Daniel Bragança