Portugal travel to Slovenia this afternoon as preparations for the U21 European Championships come to a close. Rui Jorge’s side will have their final training session at Cidade do Futebol before flying to Ljubljana.
The 2021 edition of the tournament will be played in two parts in Hungary and Slovenia. The first is the group stages (24th to 31st March) followed by the knockout rounds (31 May to 6th June).
Portugal have been drawn in Group D alongside Croatia, England and Switzerland. They have to finish in the top two to guarantee a spot in the knockout stage.
PortuGOAL's Matthew Marshall has everything you need to know as the Esperanças aim to win the tournament for the first time.
Portugal won nine of their 10 qualifiers in Group 7, the only blip coming in a 4-2 defeat to Netherlands in Doetinchem in their third match. They won home and away against Norway, Belarus, Cyprus and Gibraltar, winning their remaining seven matches including a 2-1 win against Netherlands in their final outing.
It was a significant win against a Netherlands side that had been perfect in the qualifiers, winning all nine matches with 45 goals scored and just three conceded.
Fábio Vieira scored both goals in Portimão to be top scorer in the campaign with five goals. Dany Mota was next best with four, Diogo Queirós and Jota both netting three.
Portugal vs Croatia - Thursday 25th March (9pm CET) Bonifika Stadium, Koper, Slovenia
Portugal vs England - Sunday 28th March (9pm CET) Stadion Stožice, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Portugal vs Switzerland - Wednesday 31st March (6pm CET) Stadion Stožice, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Jota and Rafael Leão were in the initial squad but picked up injuries and had to withdraw. Rui Jorge called up João Mário and Gonçalo Ramos to take their places.
Jota and Pedro Neto were strong out wide in the qualifying campaign and are big losses. Losing Neto and Nuno Mendes to the senior squad is unfortunate, but Trincão’s availability goes a long way to covering Neto's absence with Tomás Tavares and Thierry Correia capable left back alternatives.
Fábio Vieira replaced Trincão as the most important player in the squad after the U20 World Cup. Look for Vieira and Trincão to be running the show in Slovenia.
There won’t be many surprises in Jorge’s starting side. Diogo Costa will start in goal, Diogo Leite and Diogo Queirós will continue in central defence, central midfield will be anchored by Florentino Luis with Gedson Fernandes, Vitinha and Pedro Gonçalves the midfielders pushing forward.
The loss of Rafael Leão could end up being a blessing in disguise after continually failing to replicate his club form on the international stage. Jorge has to decide between Dany Mota and Tiago Tomás up front with Gonçalo Ramos an option off the bench.
Rui Jorge was optimistic when describing his squad and conscious about the need to forget past triumphs: “I believe this generation has players who, if they continue to develop, can also progress to the senior team.
These players should be very proud of what they have achieved, but they can never stop and look back. They have to always look to the present and ahead. That's the only way they will have a better future.”
Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa (Porto), João Virginia (Everton), Luís Maximiano (Sporting CP)
Defenders: Diogo Leite (Porto), Diogo Queirós (Famalicão), Tiago Djaló (Lille), Diogo Dalot (AC Milan), Tomás Tavares (Farense), Thierry Correia (Valencia), Pedro Pereira (Crotone)
Midfielders: Florentino Luis (Monaco), Gedson Fernandes (Galatasaray), Vitinha (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Daniel Bragança (Sporting CP), Fábio Vieira (Porto), João Mário (Porto), Pedro Gonçalves (Sporting CP)
Forwards: Dany Mota (Monza), Trincão (Barcelona), Francisco Conceição (Porto), Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica), Tiago Tomás (Sporting CP)
U21 Euro History
Portugal have competed in eight U21 European Championships. They reached the final in their debut in 1994, going down to Italy 1-0 in extra time with the team featuring Jorge Costa, Rui Costa, João Pinto and Luís Figo.
Portugal finished third in 2004 after losing 3-1 against Italy in the semi-finals. In 2015 they reached the final once again, Sweden winning in a penalty shoot-out after a goalless draw.
Their last campaign was in 2017 when they beat Serbia and Macedonia in the group stage but lost to Spain, failing to advance to the knockout rounds as the best second-placed team.
Portugal finished two points behind Romania in the 2019 European Championship qualifying campaign. The won 1-0 in Poland in the first leg playoff before a shock 3-1 defeat in Chaves in the second leg.
Rui Jorge is a former left-back who had lengthy spells at Porto and Sporting CP. He won seven Portuguese championships, three Portuguese Cups and earned 45 caps for the national team.
Jorge has been U21 boss since 2010, overseeing 84 matches with 59 wins, 14 draws and 11 defeats.
He faces the same challenges as many international managers and it will be interesting to see how he uses a wealth of talent in the attacking midfield positions.
There has been some discussion about his future and results in the tournament could play a large role. When recently asked about his tenure and thoughts about his career, Jorge replied: “Ten years as U21 coach. Of course it makes me proud. Will I continue? The contract only finishes in six months from now.
We've got time to think about that later. I've got more important things on my mind right now - namely this Euro. But I'm happy here, yes. As for becoming coach of the senior team, I can categorically say that is not in my plans.”
Portugal go into the European Championships with high internal expectations but few neutrals are expecting them to win the tournament.
Spain have won three of the past five tournaments and are favourites with England, France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy all ahead of Portugal.
Much of the squad contains players that were part of the successful 2016 U17 European Championship campaign. Diogo Costa, Diogo Leite, Diogo Queirós, Diogo Dalot, Florentino Luis and Gedson Fernandes all started in the final in Baku where they beat Spain in a penalty shootout.
Costa, Leite, Queirós, Florentino and Gedson were in the side that lost to England in the 2017 U19 European Championship final.
Trincão scored five goals in five matches as Portugal won the 2018 U19 European Championship. He scored in the final which included João Virgínia, Thierry Correia and Florentino with Queirós an unused substitute.
A large number of the current squad guided Portugal to the 2019 U19 European Championship final where they went down to Spain. Tomás Tavares, Vitinha, Fábio Vieira, João Mário and Gonçalo Ramos all started in the final, Ramos top scorer at the tournament with four goals.
Tavares was ambitious when asked what to expect in 2021, saying: “Portugal is a confident team which will give everything. We believe a lot in our quality, but we know that we have to work hard.
We will face each opponent, each game, with the utmost responsibility. If they are in the European Championship, it is because they have quality, but we also believe in ours and our work. We will enter any game to win and to do our best.”