Portugal set to contest the 2023 UEFA European U21 Championship

Portugal are making their final preparations for the 2023 UEFA European U21 Championship. The team gathered at Cidade do Futebol on June 7 before making the long trip to Tbilisi on June 15.

Sixteen nations are competing in Romania and Georgia with Rui Jorge' side attempting to lift the trophy for the first time.

The “Equipa das Quinas” have been drawn in Group A alongside Georgia, Belgium and Netherlands. They begin their campaign against the co-hosts in Tbilisi on Wednesday 21 June.

Portugal have reached two of the previous four finals, going down in a penalty shootout against Sweden in 2015 and losing 1-0 against Germany in 2021.

Road to Georgia

Qualifiers

Portugal won nine of their ten qualifiers with one draw, qualifying with ease after finishing 10 points ahead of Iceland in Group 4.

The campaign started in September 2021 with a 1-0 win against Belarus, concluding in June 2022 with a 2-1 win against Greece.

Rui Jorge’s side racked up some big wins along the way, beating Liechtenstein 11-0 in Vizela and 9-0 in Vaduz alongside a 6-0 win against Cyprus, ending with a healthy tally of 41 goals and three conceded.

Fábio Silva scored six goals with Fábio Vieira netting seven, Gonçalo Ramos scoring 12 goals after featuring in every match.

Friendlies

Portugal played two friendlies in Portimão in November, starting by beating Czech Republic 5-1 with Henrique Araújo hitting a hat-trick and Paulo Bernardo bagging a brace.

Fábio Silva and Tiago Gouveia were injured early in a 2-1 defeat against Japan, Fábio Vieira equalising from the penalty spot in the 78th minute before Japan won it in added time.

The Equipa das Quinas played two friendlies in March, defeating Romania 2-0 in Bucharest where Afonso Sousa and Pedro Neto scored in the first half.

Portugal beat Norway 3-0 in Varzim where Afonso Sousa, Vitinha and André Almeida found the net.

Manager

Rui Jorge was born in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1973. The left-back started his professional career at Porto before representing Sporting Clube de Portugal from 1998-2005, making 191 appearances for the Lions. He ended his club career at Belenenses.

Jorge earned 45 caps for Portugal, starting all three matches at the 2002 World Cup where António Oliveira’s side crashed out in the group stage.

The 50-year-old started his managerial career with Belenenses U19, taking over Portugal’s U21 side in November 2010 when he replaced Oceano.

Jorge led the team to the European Championship final in 2015 and 2021, celebrating 100 games in charge in November 2022.

Squad

Rui Jorge initially named 25 players in his squad with 23 travelling to Georgia. Pedro Malheiro and Tiago Gouveia were called up for the friendlies in November but didn’t make the squad.

Bernardo Vital was initially left out before returning to replace Tomás Tavares who was seriously injured in training. David Costa was unable to overcome a physical problem and missed out.

Fábio Vieira left the squad on June 18, the injured playmaker replaced by Diego Moreira.

Francisco Conceição returned to conditioning work on June 11 and will hope to get up to speed before the tournament begins.

Gonçalo Inácio, Tiago Djaló, Eduardo Quaresma, João Mário, Vitinha (PSG), Fábio Carvalho and Gonçalo Ramos all featured in the qualifiers. Inácio, Vitinha and Ramos have moved into the Seleção squad with Djaló and Mário injured and Quaresma overlooked.

Carvalho was called up for Portugal’s friendlies against Czech Republic and Japan in November, the Liverpool midfielder informing the FPF via SMS that he did not intend to continue representing Portugal at U21 level.

Goalkeepers: Celton Biai (Vitória de Guimarães), Francisco Meixedo (Porto) Samuel Soares (Benfica)

Defenders: Alexandre Penetra (Famalicão), André Amaro (Vitória de Guimarães), Leonardo Lelo (Casa Pia), Nuno Tavares (Marseille), Bernardo Vital (Estoril) Tomás Araújo (Gil Vicente)

Midfielders: Afonso Sousa (Lech Poznan), André Almeida (Valencia), Diego Moreira (Benfica), João Neves (Benfica), José Carlos (Vitória de Guimarães), Paulo Bernardo (Paços de Ferreira), Samuel Costa (Almería), Tiago Dantas (PAOK) Vasco Sousa (Porto)

Forwards: Fábio Silva (PSV Eindhoven), Francisco Conceição (Ajax), Henrique Araújo (Watford), Pedro Neto (Wolverhampton) Vitinha (Marseille)

Quotes

Celton Biai: “I feel the group confident. Of course, the goal is always to win the European Championship, but for that we need to think game by game, that's the goal”.

Alexandre Penetra: “Of course, we've all been together at various stages, but I think it's good to recreate those connections in the first weeks and in the first training sessions and get back to feeling what teammates and the coach like.

Instead of thinking about the first game, maybe it's important to look at ourselves a little more and understand what can take us far in the European Championship.

Training is always at maximum intensity and everyone wants to do their best on an individual level for the benefit of the collective. There is healthy competition, which all groups must have, in order to achieve great achievements and results.

The group is confident. We have to look game by game and understand what we are capable of doing. We believe a lot in each other and in our work.

Honestly, I don't have a preference. I feel comfortable in both positions. It's obvious that I already have more baggage as a centre-back and more years of experience, but moving to right-back was also a happy adaptation.

The most important thing is to be available and help the team in any position and when the 'mister' sees fit”.

André Almeida: “I will do my best and I hope to contribute to helping the team. We haven't studied the opponents yet, but our focus is mainly on us and our abilities

We know it's very difficult, in football anything can happen and sometimes the best team doesn't win, but I think that if we work and are focused we can go very far in the competition. The focus is game by game.

I'm one of the older players and we have a responsibility to convey what this selection represents. However, we have a very good group and we don't need to do that with the younger ones who already know where they are.

It's a feeling of pride with Roberto Martínez looking at me. It gives me more motivation to keep working and possibly one day be called (to the senior team). Now I'm focused on the U21s, the European Championship is very important”.

Vitinha: “We are candidates, but for that we have to give our best and show it on the pitch. It is precisely in this register of thinking game by game that we are working.

The key to the European Championship is not just the attack, it's not just the defense, it's the whole team. We work as a team.

If the attack is very good, but the defense and midfield are not, it will be very difficult or almost impossible to win the title. We all are and will be important, from the starting lineup to the substitutes, so we all have to be at our best.

I arrive as I always arrived. Full of willingness to work and help, to give my best and to be able to contribute to the maximum for the team. This European Championship will be another opportunity to demonstrate my quality and talent.

I don't have a target of goals to achieve in the European Championship. I want to help the team and, if I can make assists or goals, even better. If not, I will help in another way and do my best in games and training. My personal goal is to demonstrate all my quality in the opportunities I have”. 

Samuel Costa: “The group is confident and training very well. Physically, there were players on vacation for a long time, but the medical staff has put us in some training to recover our physical form. I see the group very confident, just good people.

What I have in mind is always what I can do, that's what I can control and do the best I can. This call up is the result of my work and I can only be grateful to be here and to be able to help my teammates.

We know that the margin of error will be very small. As a team, we have to take care of all the details and try to be as perfect as possible. We know that mistakes can happen, but this group works every day to prevent it from happening. For now, the Netherlands and Belgium are not on our minds, only Georgia”.

Afonso Sousa: “We want the first game to arrive as soon as possible. We are prepared to face Georgia. Portugal is always a candidate in every competition it enters. It doesn't bring us pressure.

Portugal goes to a competition and always wants the title. It's no secret, we do not escape this rule. Now our focus is on Georgia. Then, step by step, we will think about the other games.

Portugal always likes to play attacking. We have no problem taking only six defenders. They are options.

We started the internship with 25 players and it was unfair for anyone to leave, but they are choices and options, we must always respect them. We are an attacking team, who like to have the ball, and we will try to show that in the next game.”

Zé Carlos: “We are not favourites, or anything like that. We are candidates, as we have been in finals, as happened in the previous edition. We will always enter the field to win. The objective is the title, but we are taking our steps game by game and day by day.

We are really united, something that makes us stronger. Integration became easy, due to the players we have and their humility and way of being. It has been like this for all athletes arriving in this group for the first time.” 

Rui Jorge: “I think we demonstrated throughout qualifying that our style of play, safety with the ball, creativity and intelligence in the game can allow us to dispute results and matches against any team.

Against physically stronger teams, with players faster than ours, we will try, through our way of playing and our technical quality, to try to get the better of our opponents.

We try in these final stages to demonstrate the quality of our players, of our team”. 

Analysis

It's certainly a blow to lose Gonçalo Inácio, Tiago Djaló, João Mário, Vitinha, David Costa, Fábio Vieira, Fábio Carvalho and Gonçalo Ramos.

Celton Biai will start in goal with André Amaro and Tomás Araújo likely to be the new central defensive partnership. I expect Alexandre Penetra to start at right-back with José Carlos his back up. Amaro, Araújo and Penetra were all first choice startes for their respective Primeira Liga clubs and but have had little experience playing together. 

Tiago Dantas should occupy the holding midfield role with André Almeida in the midfield three. Rui Jorge has some tough decisions to make with the final two spots in midfield, but I expect João Neves to come straight into the starting side. The addition of Neves comes at a great time as does Pedro Neto's return to the squad.

Neto and Afonso Sousa could take Vieira's playmaking role unless Jorge opts for a 4-3-3 due to Vieira's absence.

Vitinha is the first choice striker with Fábio Silva and Henrique Araújo hoping to start up front, Francisco Conceição an option off the bench.

I am confident that Rui Jorge's side have enough quality to go deep in Georgia. Time will tell if they can go one better than 2015 and 2021 and win their first European U21 Championship.

Força!

By Mathew Marshall

Fixtures

Wednesday June 21, 2023

17:00 - Portugal vs Georgia (Boris Paichadze Stadium, Tbilisi)

Saturday June 24, 2023

17:00 - Portugal vs Netherlands (Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, Tbilisi)

Tuesday June 27, 2023

17:00 - Portugal vs Belgium (Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, Tbilisi)

Saturday July 1 - Sunday July 2, 2023

Quarter-Finals

Wednesday July 5, 2023

Semi-Finals

Saturday July 8, 2023

Final