Portugal began their U21 European Championship group stage campaign with a 1-0 win against Croatia at Bonifika Stadium in Koper. Fábio Vieira came off the bench to score the winner that puts the Esperanças in a great position to qualify for the knockout rounds.

Rui Jorge’s side were their worst enemies at times and there is plenty to improve on with two matches remaining. PortuGOAL’s Matthew Marshall breaks down the match.

Portugal Start Strong

Portugal started on the front foot, controlling possession and executing an effective high press that forced Croatia into frequent turnovers. It was the Young Blazers that would fashion the first chance however, Lovro Majer’s dipping effort tipped over the bar by Diogo Costa.

Portugal went close to taking the lead in the 24th minute with two quick fire chances.

Trincão beat two defenders and surged into the box, his cross falling to Tiago Tomás who saw his goal bound effort deflected wide off Martin Erlić’s hand. There was no penalty forthcoming as Diogo Queirós headed onto the post from the resulting corner.

Vitinha started to take control with a number of through balls causing Croatia’s defence problems. Pedro Gonçalves saw his shot saved before Vitinha found Gedson Fernandes who fired into the side netting from a tight angle.

Sandro Kulenović tested Costa from distance, but it was Adrian Šemper who was being asked more questions. The Croatian goalkeeper pushed Vitinha’s bouncing effort wide just before the break.

Substitutions Set The Tone

The start of the second half was lethargic which forced Rui Jorge to act. He made three substitutions in the 64th minute with Florentino Luís, Trincão and Tiago Tomás making way for Fábio Vieira, Francisco Conceição and Dany Mota.

It didn’t take long for them to make an impact.

Four minutes after being introduced, Vieira raced beyond Croatia’s defence, collected Dany Mota’s through ball and produced a classy finish past Šemper to give Portugal the lead.

Vitinha made way for Daniel Bragança and Goncalo Ramos replaced Pedro Gonçalves as the game entered the closing stages. Gedson found Diogo Leite behind Croatia’s defence, he fired over but it was job done as Portugal made a winning start to the group stage.

Fábio Vieira

Rui Jorge couldn’t fit Fábio Vieira into his starting side, a harsh call against the Porto playmaker who had been Portugal’s best player in the qualification campaign. He was left out due to Trincão's return with Vitinha and Pedro Gonçalves both in the starting XI.

The stage was set for Vieira to come off the bench and play a key role. That he did with a composed finish to give Portugal an important win.

Florentino

Florentino Luís’ loan move to Monaco hasn’t worked out with the 21-year-old playing 11 minutes of action in 2021. The lack of game time was evident with his passing below par, losing possession in dangerous positions and conceding fouls.

Daniel Bragança is one of the options to replace Florentino in the defensive midfield position but was particularly poor off the bench. Rui Jorge has little option but to stick with Florentino in the starting side and he will need to improve against England on Sunday.

Wrap Up

Igor Bišćan’s side have plenty of talent in their ranks with Luka Ivanusec, Bartol Franjic and Lovro Majer all featuring for Dinamo Zagreb in their upset win against Tottenham in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16.

Portugal largely controlled the match however, and most of Croatia’s openings came from self-inflicted sloppiness from the Esperanças.

18-year-old Tiago Tomás made his U21 debut and performed well up front. He made intelligent runs, brought his teammates into play and was unlucky not to score before half time.

Dany Mota was the player sacrificed for Tomás, and like Vieira, had a lot to prove when he came off the bench. It was ironic that two of the important players in qualification who started on the bench were involved in the match winning goal.

Rui Jorge has plenty of options in attack and some tough decisions to make before they take on England at 9pm CET on Sunday. A win against the Young Lions and Croatia failing to beat Switzerland will send Portugal through to the knockout stage with a game in hand.

Portugal U21 Line Up (4-3-3): Diogo Costa - Thierry Correia, Diogo Queirós, Diogo Leite, Diogo Dalot - Florentino Luís (Fábio Vieira 64’), Vitinha (Daniel Bragança 73’), Gedson Fernandes - Trincão (Francisco Conceição 64’), Tiago Tomás (Dany Mota 64’), Pedro Gonçalves (Gonçalo Ramos 80’)

Unused substitutes: João Virginia, Luís Maximiano, Tiago Djaló, Tomás Tavares, Pedro Pereira, Filipe Soares, João Mário

Goals:

[1-0] - Fábio Vieira 68'

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Very frustrating game. Once again, an instance of a team that has the talent, but are not clicking. Tiago Tomas is an absolute workhorse. He's got a lot of work to do and has to work on his finishing, but he's got a lot of passion and energy....

Very frustrating game. Once again, an instance of a team that has the talent, but are not clicking. Tiago Tomas is an absolute workhorse. He's got a lot of work to do and has to work on his finishing, but he's got a lot of passion and energy. Dany Mota is an underrated player. I watched a few of his performances for Juventus' U-23, and he's a smart player, his career path so far has been strange and I'd like to see him play in the Liga. The team looks solid defensively.

England will be the real test for the squad. There isn't a huge gap in quality between the two teams, let's see how they do.

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Portugal were dominant from start to finish. Poor finishing is the only reason why this match didn't end 4 or 5-0.

I thought the whole team played well, especially the midfield. I was particularly impressed with Vitinha. He looks a clever little...

Portugal were dominant from start to finish. Poor finishing is the only reason why this match didn't end 4 or 5-0.

I thought the whole team played well, especially the midfield. I was particularly impressed with Vitinha. He looks a clever little player, very much a typical Portuguese #8.

Trincão is pure class, but his final ball could have been a bit better. Pote's finishing was also off.

Fabio Vieira is too good to leave on the bench, but Gedson's ability to cover every blade of grass effortlessly brings balance to the side, and he is particularly important in defensive transition. Vitinha connects the dots and intelligently operates in half spaces, and Florentino is the only defensively sound #6 on the squad.

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This team has plenty of talent but won’t win anything with Rui Jorge at the helm. Guy is such a terrible manager. I don’t get how he’s had this job for so long.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Im from Serbia. Sorry you win. I shame. Sorry my goalkeeper is stupid man and you ein.

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