Portugal 5-3 Italy
Portugal beat Italy 5-3 in the European U21 Championship quarter-finals at Stadion Stožice in Ljubljana. Rui Jorge’s side led 2-0 through Dany Mota and were 3-1 up when Gonçalo Ramos scored in the 58th minute, but Italy fought back and equalised in the 89th minute to take it to extra time.
Jota and Francisco Conceição scored in the second period of extra time after the Azzurrini had been reduced to 10 men, Portugal prolonging their campaign in Slovenia where they will take on Spain in the semi-finals.
Portugal take a 2-0 lead
Rui Jorge had his team line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation. There were no surprises in defence or midfield, Gonçalo Ramos replacing Francisco Trincão and partnering Dany Mota up front.
Vitinha took the lead in the 6th minute. Vitinha's attempt forced a save from Marco Carnesecchi and Portugal scored from the resulting corner. Fábio Vieira’s delivery was deflected towards goal, Dany Mota producing a spectacular overhead bicycle kick that gave Marco Carnesecchi no chance.
Portugal's high press was working well, suffocating Italy and forcing them into long balls out from defence. The Azzurrini soon found their way into the game however, Tommaso Pobega's low drive their best chance.
Portugal regained control with a succession of corners from which they doubled their lead. Viera's deep floater found Daniel Bragança, he headed the ball to Mota who took a touch and smashed a powerful left footed effort past Carnesecchi.
Italy fight back
Italy fought back strong, Davide Frattesi surging into the box before providing a chance for Raoul Bellanova who fired over the bar.
Gianluca Scamacca shot wide but their persistence paid off on the stroke of half time. An Italian corner was flicked towards the back post by Frattesi where Tomasso Pobega fired into an empty net.
Portugal were too passive to start the second half, their high press a distant memory and Frattesi dropping deeper into midfield to create a numerical advantage.
Italy looked certain to equalise when Marco Sala’s cross found Frattesi at point blank range, but his bullet header was too close to Diogo Costa who pulled off a fine reflex save.
Portugal regain two goal advantage, but not for long
Portugal won a free kick that Fábio Vieira hit into the Italian wall, but he soon had another chance to send the ball into the danger area and it resulted in a goal.
Diogo Queirós was still upfield and he rose highest to headed the ball towards goal where Gonçalo Ramos who produced a smart finish to make it 3-1.
Less than two minutes later Italy had reduced the deficit once again. It was a simple goal with Frattesi’s cross evading Portugal’s defence and Scamacca left with an easy finish.
The roles had been reversed with Italy’s high press forcing Portugal into long balls, The Esperanças were lacking movement and couldn’t find space despite Vitinha and Vieria seeing plenty of the ball.
Florentino Luís replaced Gonçalo Ramos in the 69th minute as Portugal went close to restoring their two goal advantage. Vitinha shot over the bar after a clever 1-2 with Mota at the edge of the 18 yard box.
Jota replaced Gedson Fernandes in the 74th minute with Paolo Nicolato making four changes in the space of six minutes. Raoul Bellanova, Tommaso Pobega, Marco Sala and Nicolo Rovella made way for Gabriele Zappa, Giulio Maggiore, Riccardo Sottil and Patrick Cutrone.
Florentino’s introduction and Italy’s attacking intentions allowed Daniel Bragança to push up higher where he was creating havoc. Portugal were creating chances, the best of which saw Jota’s shot tipped over the bar.
Matteo Lovato was booked for taking down Dany Mota before Jorge made two more changes, Vieira and Bragança making way for Romário Baró and Francisco Conceição.
Just when it looked like Portugal were about to seal the deal, Italy equalised in the 89th minute. Sottil surged down the left wing, his cross turned in at the near post with Costa beaten.
Lovato’s dismissal gives Portugal the advantage
The players had just returned to the pitch for extra time when Italy were reduced to 10 men. Lovato and Mota jumped for the ball, the Italian's arm catching Mota in the head with referee François Letexier awarding Lovato his second yellow card.
Mota made way for Rafael Leão but Italy were not about to lie down. They creating another chance with Cutrone’s shot saved by Costa and cleared off the line by Queiros.
Portugal made the extra man count in the final 15 minutes as Jota played a smart 1-2 with Baro before finding the bottom corner. Cutrone turned Zappa’s cross narrowly wide which was the signal for Italy’s frustrations to boil over.
Francisco Conceição put the icing on the cake with three minutes remaining. He took on Frattesi, turning the fatiguing midfielder inside and out before firing past Carnesecchi from close range.
Dany Mota impressed in the qualifiers and group stage and it all came together for him in Ljubljana. He played a huge role in the victory and justified Jorge’s decision to start him ahead of Tiago Tomás or Rafael Leão.
Jorge was full of praise for the Monza striker after the match: "Dany has developed with us and brings a lot of value for a trainer. He causes the opposition a lot of attention and helped us in many moments."
"He had a great game in defence and attack. He works a lot, has the capacity to play with his back to the opponent, is strong in the air without being very tall and has the ability to score."
It was a thrilling game in Ljubljana and the supporters that travelled to Slovenia did their best to support their nations and create some atmosphere.
Italy have a strong squad, especially up front, but Portugal should have been able to hold onto the leads they established.
Rui Jorge offered some explanations for his team being unable to close it out in 90 minutes: “We should have been more aggressive defensively and create more open spaces in Italy's half of the pitch. Sometimes we were not calm enough, we should have been more mature.”
“To concede three goals, it’s hard to say we defended well.” There is no doubt that Jorge and his analysts will be busy breaking down Italy's goals and doing some extra defensive work on the training pitch.
Portugal travel to Maribor to take on Spain in the quarter-finals. The match will be played at Stadion Ljudski vrt at 5pm BST on Thursday.
Line up & goals
Portugal U21 Line Up (4-3-1-2): Diogo Costa - Diogo Dalot, Diogo Queirós, Diogo Leite, Tomás Tavares – Vitinha, Daniel Bragança (Romário Baró 86’), Gedson Fernandes (Jota 74’), Fábio Vieira (Francisco Conceição 86’) - Gonçalo Ramos (Florentino Luís 69’), Dany Mota (Rafael Leão 94’)
Unused substitutes: João Virginia, Luís Maximiano, Tiago Djaló, Pedro Pereira, Abdu Conté, Filipe Soares, Tiago Tomás
[1-0] – Dany Mota 6'
[2-0] – Dany Mota 31’
[2-1] – Tommaso Pobega 45’
[3-1] – Gonçalo Ramos 58’
[3-2] – Gianluca Scamacca 60’
[3-3] – Patrick Cutrone 89’
[4-3] – Jota 109’
[5-3] – Francisco Conceição 119’