Portugal’s 2021 UEFA European U21 Championship campaign came to an end after a 1-0 defeat to Germany in the final at Stadion Stožice in Ljubljana. Ridle Baku provided the goal for Lukas Nmecha in the 49th minute and Rui Jorge’s side were unable to find an equaliser.
It was the end of the road for a large portion of Portugal's squad who had won two European Championships and finished runners-up on three occasions. PortuGOAL's Matthew Marshall reports on a disappointing evening for the Portuguese youngsters.
Portugal start strong
Rui Jorge made two changes to the side that started against Spain with Florentino Luís replacing Gedson Fernandes & Tiago Tomás coming in for Rafael Leão up front.
Abdu Conté was combining well with Dany Mota and it was through that channel that Portugal created their first chance. The ball found it’s way to Tiago Tomás who turned and shot just wide.
Diogo Dalot had seen an earlier shot go into the side netting, he threatened again with a great run into the box before his shot was blocked.
Conté then provided a cross that found Tomas but his looping header was easily saved by Finn Dahmen.
Germany take control
Florentino Luís lost possession and Germany pounced. Florian Wirtz picked it up, made space at the edge of the 18-yard box, his shot hitting the underside of the crossbar and bouncing centimetres away from the goal line.
Diogo Costa saved an effort from Lukas Nmecha, Ridle Baku shot wide and Arne Maier’s shot towards the top corner was saved by Costa.
Portugal came back into the contest 5 minutes from half time, beginning with Fábio Vieira’s shot that narrowly missed the top corner.
Their best chance was yet to come, Mota releasing Vitinha who hesitated when a shot or a pass to unmarked teammates was on and allowed Germany’s defence to get back in numbers. It was a pivotal moment in the match and a glorious opportunity that was squandered.
The decisive goal
Rafael Leão replaced Dany Mota at the break but four minutes later Germany were in front.
Baku isolated Conté who continually backed off, allowing his opponent time and space to provide a perfect through ball to Lukas Nmecha who rounded Costa and finished with style.
Portugal push hard for an equaliser
Vitinha found Vieira in the box but his shot was blocked. Leão then broke free and unsuccessfully tried to find Vieira instead of backing himself against Amos Pieper.
Rui Jorge made two substitutions in the 59th minute with wingers Jota and Francisco Conceição coming on for Vitinha and Tiago Tomás.
Vieira almost scored from the halfway line as he forced a retreating Dahmen to tip the ball away for a corner. He then provided a perfect cross towards Jota who couldn’t connect.
It was the Fábio Vieira show but he was getting little support.
Stefan Kuntz made two substitutions, Mergim Berisha making way for Jonathan Burkardt and Florian Wirtz replaced by Karim Adeyemi.
Germany dangerous on the counter
Portugal had to take more risks which resulted in the team losing balance and offering Germany opportunities to counter attack.
Adeyemi immediately got into the action, winning a duel with Dalot before forcing a save from Costa. Nmecha’s shot was then tipped over the bar by Portugal’s shot stopper.
Florentino lost possession which saw Adeyemi streak free and force another save from Costa.
Florentino made way for Gedson Fernandes and Germany saw Niklas Dorsch and Lukas Nmecha replaced by Ismail Jakobs and Vitaly Janelt.
Rui Jorge made his last throw of the dice with Gonçalo Ramos replacing Abdu Conté but it was too little too late, Germany standing strong and closing it out.
Fábio Vieira was judged to have been the best player of the tournament. He has been Portugal's most important and influential player throughout the entire campaign and it was a deserved award.
Rui Jorge praised the Porto playmaker after the match and described his qualities: "He had a great game. He is versatile, plays in a very technical style and has to improve some aspects of his playing, but he has a great future and I believe that he will be the player he deserves to be."
It was a long campaign for Portugal that started in September 2019, a run of 16 matches of which they won 13 in normal time, one in extra time and two defeats.
Losing the final is obviously disappointing, but the result of one match should not diminish their achievements as a group throughout the youth levels for Portugal. They have done their nation proud and can hold their heads high.
Rui Jorge offered some insight into his final message for his team: "Today everything will seem very bad but tomorrow they will go on their path. It’s hard to lose the final but you have to think about what they left behind."
"They gave everything to follow the principles that we gave them. They always behaved very well on and off the pitch. Many things are not visible but for us it was important that they behave with our principles".
I leave you with words from Portugal's captain Diogo Queirós: "We had a fantastic run to the final and we can be very proud. We have to keep working hard to win trophies in the future."
Final words from Ljubljana. Losing finals are tough, but not as tough as reaching them. It's about much more than one game. Hoping to see some.of these players shine over the coming decade. pic.twitter.com/eCCAXgaTA6— Matthew Marshall (@noobzcorp) June 6, 2021
Portugal U21 Line Up (4-3-1-2): Diogo Costa - Diogo Dalot, Diogo Queirós, Diogo Leite, Abdu Conté (Gonçalo Ramos 86’) - Vitinha (Jota 59’), Florentino Luís (Gedson Fernandes 83’), Daniel Bragança - Fábio Vieira - Dany Mota (Rafael Leão 46’), Tiago Tomás (Francisco Conceição 59’)
Unused substitutes: João Virginia, Luís Maximiano, Tiago Djaló, Tomás Tavares, Pedro Pereira, Romário Baró, Filipe Soares
Germany U21 Line Up (4-2-3-1): Dahmen - Baku, Pieper, Schlotterbeck, Raum - Maier, Dorsch (Janelt 85’) - Wirtz (Adeyemi 67‘), Özcan (Stach 90+2’), Berisha (Burkardt 67’) - Nmecha (Jakobs 85’)
Unused substitutes: Schubert, Grill, Mai, Jaeckel, Vagnoman, Klimowicz, Appelkamp
[1-0] - Lukas Nmecha 49'