Portugal beaten 2-0 by Georgia in their 2023 European U21 Championship opener

Portugal’s 2023 European U21 Championship campaign got off to a horror start in Tbilisi where they suffered a 2-0 defeat against co-hosts Georgia.

The Equipa das Quinas monopolised possession at Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena but couldn’t do anything with it, some sloppy defending resulting in two goals conceded before the break.

Giorgi Gagua outmuscled Tomás Araújo in the 37th minute and fired the ball into the bottom corner, Saba Sazonov left completely unmarked in added time when he headed a corner past Celton Biai.

Rui Jorge introduced Francisco Conceição and Henrique Araújo at the break, Conceição’s cross deflected off the bar representing the closest Portugal came to breaching Georgia’s determined defence.

Tomás Araújo’s evening went from bad to worse in the 76th minute when he received a straight red card and there was no way back. Jorge’s side face an uphill battle to reach the knockout rounds with Belgium and the Netherlands their next opponents in Group A.

Portugal on top

Nuno Tavares and Pedro Neto were heavily involved in the opening stages as Portugal dominated possession and field position.

Afonso Sousa was dropping deep in an attempt to instigate attacks, the Equipa das Quinas boxing Georgia in their own half without threatening Luka Kutaladze. 

At this stage it seemed Portugal’s tag as one of the tournament favourites was well merited, with the U21 Seleção well backed to go far in the competition at online betting sites such as the https://nowekasyna-pl.com/bonuses/darmowa-kasa-bez-depozytu platform that even offers no deposit bonuses.  

Georgia punish Portugal’s sloppy defence

However, the tournament co-hosts took the lead against the run of play in the 37th minute following a hopeful punt up field. Giorgi Gagua outmuscled Tomás Araújo and latched onto Giorgi Tsitaishvili’s long ball, cutting inside and firing the ball into the bottom corner.

Sousa’s shot from distance punched away by Kutaladze before Georgia doubled their advantage in added time.

It was a simple as it gets following a corner delivered by Tsitaishvili, Saba Sazonov anchored on the 6-yard line and taking advantage of some non-existent marking to head past a helpless Celton Biai.

Substitutes try to make a difference

Rui Jorge made two changes at the break with Francisco Conceição and Henrique Araújo replacing Afonso Sousa and Vitinha.

The tempo immediately increased with Henrique Araújo heading Tavares’ cross wide. Conceição then took over proceedings, his cross deflected off the bar before shooting straight at Kutaladze.

Ramaz Svanadze attempted to turn the tide in the 58th minute when he replaced Tsitaishvili and Giorgi Guliashvili with Irakli Azarov and Giorgi Gocholeishvili.

André Almeida’s shot was deflected straight at Kutaladze before Svanadze made two more substitutions, Giorgi Moistsrapishvili and Anzor Mekvabishvili making way for Zuriko Davitashvili and Nodar Lominadze.

Almeida fired over the bar before Jorge went to his bench in the 71st minute, bringing on Samuel Costa and Paulo Bernardo for José Carlos and João Neves, Costa occupying a central defensive position with Alexandre Penetra moving to right back.

Costa missed the top corner and Tavares saw his low drive saved before things went from bad to worse for the Equipa das Quinas.

Tomás Araújo sees red

Georgia broke down the right wing with a rare venture into Portugal’s half, Gocholeishvili getting past Tomás Araújo and surging clear. Araújo clumsily took down the substitute which saw referee Espen Eskås produce a straight red card.

Tiago Dantas fired a free kick over the bar but there was no getting around or through a deep and determined Georgian defence in Tbilisi.

Portugal’s backs are now well and truly against the wall with matches against Belgium and the Netherlands to come.

Analysis

Everyone is a genius after full time, but surely even Rui Jorge will admit that he got his starting side and formation wrong.

Pedro Neto has performed admirably as a striker when called up, but he is a winger who naturally drifts into wide positions. That left Vitinha completely outnumbered and shackled on the rare occasions the ball came his way.

Against Georgia’s back three, surely starting with a 4-3-3 with natural wingers was the best way to try and break the co-hosts down. That’s what we saw after the break with Portugal 2-0 down, but by then it was largely too late.

Jorge wasn’t responsible for the two defensive errors that saw Georgia score with their first two shots, and he could do nothing about Tomás Araújo’s red card, but the U21 boss must take some of the responsibility for the defeat in Tbilisi.

Overcoming defeat in the opening game of an international tournament is possible, just ask Argentina, but Jorge and his team will have to come up with some solutions pronto if Portugal want to prolong their campaign past the group stage in 2023. 

By Matthew Marshall