Portugal suffer 2-1 defeat in Greece in the U21 European Championship qualifiers

Portugal’s perfect record in the U21 European Championship qualifiers came to an end after a 2-1 defeat in Greece.

Rui Jorge’s side overcame a slow start at Stadio Theodoros Kolokotronis where Francisco Conceição opened the scoring in the 29th minute, the winger cutting inside and smashing a long distance shot into the top corner.

Their lead lasted less than a minute, the impressive Christos Tzolis starting and finishing a move which saw him steer the ball into the bottom corner.

Greece took the lead five minutes into the second half, Fotis Kitsos streaking down the left wing and delivering a cross that was converted by Michail Panagidis.

The Equipa das Quinas failed to mount any serious pressure in the closing stages, the hosts holding on to join Portugal and Croatia in a three way battle to qualify from Group G.

Greece on top

Portugal had a shaky start in Tripoli, Tomás Araújo losing possession with the hosts unable to capitalise. Christos Tzolis then broke through and fired the first shot on target.

Rui Jorge’s side were wide open down their right edge, Rodrigo Gomes next to give the ball away with Tzolis unable to beat Samuel Soares. Greece continued to create chances, Christos Kourfalidis’ corner headed wide by Apostolos Konstantopoulos.

The Equipa das Quinas eventually managed to offer some attacking threat when Henrique Araújo saw his shot blocked. It seemed to provide a spark with Portugal opening the scoring in the 29th minute.

Conceição golazo

Francisco Conceição did it all himself after drifting infield and trying his luck from distance, the winger hitting the jackpot when his fierce strike sailed into the top corner with Konstantinos Tzolakis no chance.

Jorge would have been filthy with what he saw next as Greece equalised less than 60 seconds later.

Greece regain control

It was Tzolis who continued his impressive start after playing a neat 1-2 with Argyrios Darelas, the Fortuna Dusseldorf winger continuing his run and stroking the ball into the bottom corner.

Jorge made two changes at the break with Mateus Fernandes and Tiago Tomás replacing Vasco Sousa and Henrique Araújo. Five minutes later Greece took the lead.

Portugal gave the ball away with the hosts breaking clear, Fotis Kitsos’ cross falling perfectly for Michail Panagidis who side footed past Soares.

Greece were playing with plenty of confidence and continued to create chances, Darelas heading wide at the back post and Giannis Niarchos breaking clear but unable to beat Soares.

The Equipa das Quinas finally managed to turn the tide with Conceição’s shot saved. Jorge replaced Tiago Morais with Fábio Silva in the 61st minute.

Conceição forced another save from Tzolakis with Fernandes firing the follow up over the bar. Joe Marques made way for Pedro Santos in the 71st minute and Rodrigo Gomes was replaced by Tomás Esteves 11 minutes later.

Silva tested Tzolakis but Portugal where unable to maintain any pressure against a strong Greek defence, the hosts having the final chance of the match in added time when Tzolis’ shot was saved.

Perfect run snapped

Portugal enjoyed a great start to the qualifiers, a 3-0 win against Andorra followed by a 5-0 win against Belarus in Armenia. They returned to the motherland for their next two games, a 6-1 win against Belarus followed by a 2-0 victory over Greece.

The defeat in Tripoli saw Portugal’s gap at the top of Group G reduced to one point, Greece having played one game more. Croatia sit two points back with two games in hand.

Rui Jorge’s side will return to action in March, hosting Faroe Islands on 20 March with a crunch clash against Croatia five days later.

By Matthew Marshall