Portugal beat Serbia 3-2 to reach the 2024 UEFA European U17 Championship final

Portugal produced a sensational turnaround to beat Serbia 3-2 in the 2024 UEFA European U17 Championship semi-finals.

Cardoso Varela missed a great chance at AEK Arena before Serbia went ahead in the 22nd minute, Mihajlo Cvetković exchanging passes with Dusan Makević before finding the bottom corner.

Serbia doubled their advantage in the 37th minute when Cvetković picked out an unmarked Djordje Ranković, his shot slapped away by Diogo Ferreira with ball rebounding off Eduardo Felicíssimo and into the net.

The Equipa das Quinas were fortunate not to go 3-0 down when Aleksa Vasilić hit the post, the woodwork coming to their rescue again after the break when Ranković got past Ferreira and saw his shot bounce off the bar.

Portugal continued to waste chances before reducing the deficit in the 60th minute, Geovany Quenda’s free kick diverted into his own net by Aleksa Damjanović.

The equaliser eventually came in the 89th minute through Eduardo Fernandes, his low cross picking out Rodrigo Mora who netted his fifth goal of the tournament. There was more drama to come in added time, Edgar Mota’s deflected cross headed home by João Trovisco.

Chances at both ends

Serbia created the opening opportunity in Larnaca with Djordje Ranković’s shot tipped over the bar by Diogo Ferreira. Portugal cleared the resulting corner as Rodrigo Mora sent Cardoso Varela clear, the Porto teammates combining with Mora’s shot blocked and Varela’s follow up effort deflected wide.

Chances were coming at both ends, Andrija Maksimović firing two efforts at Ferreira before Geovany Quenda cut inside and saw his shot skim off the bar.

The Equipa das Quinas had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 18th minute when Mora expertly placed Ferreira’s pass into the path of Varela. The winger surged into the box but was unable to hit the target, his left footed effort rolling harmlessly wide.

Cvetković scores

Serbia took advantage and went ahead in the 22nd minute. Mihajlo Cvetković played a neat 1-2 with Dusan Makević, the striker executing a sweet strike into the bottom corner.

It could have been worse when Maksimović found himself behind enemy lines, his volley narrowly missing the top corner.

The ding dong battle continued when Gabriel Silva surged into the box, cut inside and found Rodrigo Mora, his shot cleared off the line by Veljko Milosavljević.

Serbia double their advantage

Serbia took a 2-0 lead in the 37th minute after some impressive hold up play from Cvetković. He held off Rui Silva long enough to bamboozle Portugal’s defence, then found an unmarked Ranković who saw his shot saved by Ferreira, the ball rebounding off Eduardo Felicíssimo and into the net.

Woodwork to the rescue

Portugal were fortunate not to go into the break 3-0 down. Afonso Sousa was unable to clear a regulation long ball, Aleksa Vasilić pouncing and seeing his shot take a deflection and bounce off the post.

João Santos reacted at half-time by bringing on Eduardo Fernandes for Cardoso Varela. Quenda was seeing plenty of the ball after the break, the winger shooting wide before the woodwork came to Portugal’s rescue once again.

Cvetković released Ranković with Ferreira taking too long to come off his line, the winger cutting inside the stranded goalkeeper, slipping and seeing his shot bounce off the bar and back into play.

Portugal apply pressure

Portugal pounced and began to apply plenty of pressure. Felicíssimo’s long ball released Quenda who was 1 on 1 with Vukasin Jovanović but decided not to shoot, his attempted pass to Gabriel Silva hit with too much power which saw the chance go begging.

Serbian assistant manager Dobrivoje Mutavdžić, standing in for the suspended Jovan Damjanović, made two changes in the 56th minute when he replaced the injured centre-back Nikola Simić with Vuk Roganović, striker Aleksa Damjanović coming on for midfielder Dusan Makević which saw Cvetković move to the right wing.

Deficit reduced

Portugal got back into the game in the 60th minute after Viktor Stojanović hit Duarte Soares with a high shot near the corner flag. Quenda sent the free kick into the box, Jovanović unable to get a hand on it which resulted in Aleksa Damjanović diverting the ball into his own net.

João Santos made two changes, Edgar Mota and Afonso Patrão replacing Martim Cunha and Gabriel Silva which saw Soares switch to left-back. João Simões then made way for Tiago Ferreira in the 66th minute.

The Equipa das Quinas stayed on the front foot with Patrão racing onto Soares’ pass and failing in his attempt to round Jovanović. Quenda’s shot was then cleared off the line before Mora dragged his effort wide.

Mutavdžić made two substitutions on the 74th minute, wingers Ranković and Maksimović making way for Bogdan Kostić and Jovan Ćirić.

Quenda’s frustrations were evident when he lashed out at Viktor Stojanović, catching the defender in the balls which saw referee David Fuxman issue the winger with a yellow card.

Serbia went close to extending their lead when Damjanović got into the box and rounded Ferreira, his shot cleared off the line by Rui Silva.

Santos’ last throw of the dice saw João Trovisco replace an exhausted Quenda, Fernandes moving to the right wing with Trovisco stationed on the left.

Late drama

Portugal finally found an equaliser in the 89th minute when Fernandes’ low cross found Mora, the playmaker doing well to divert the ball past Jovanović.

There was only going to be one winner during six minutes of added time, Mora dancing inside the box before firing wide, Edgar Mota then sending a cross into the box where Trovisco volleyed over the bar.

The decisive moment came in the 5th minute of added time, Mota’s deflected cross falling perfectly for Trovisco on the edge of the six-yard box, the substitute heading past Jovanović who had no chance.

Don’t stop believing

It was an incredible game of football in Larnaca, emotions running high with the momentum swinging back and forth from the opening minutes.

Serbia showed they are a quality side, spearheaded by the impressive Djordje Ranković and Mihajlo Cvetković with special mention going to midfielder Vasilije Kostov.

Portugal wasted plenty of chances and had the woodwork to thank either side of half-time, but their spirit and belief were on display in the closing stages as they reached the final without relying on the penalty shootout lottery.

João Santos’ decision to replace Cardoso Varela with Eduardo Fernandes at half-time paid dividends. Fernandes was excellent, especially after he switched to the right flank when an exhausted Geovany Quenda made way for João Trovisco.

Rodrigo Mora was heavily involved in the opening stages before drifting out of the contest, almost all the ball going to Quenda who appeared to have a magnet in his boot.

Mora’s late resurgence came at exactly the right time, the Porto playmaker netting his fifth goal of the tournament.

Santos has a number of challenges ahead in the coming days, recovery and recuperation at the top of the list followed by mentally preparing his players for the final. Portugal will face Italy, the match taking place at Alphamega Stadium in Limassol on Wednesday 5 June.

Portugal have previously reached two UEFA European U17 Championship finals, beating Spain 2-1 on home soil in 2003 and defeating Spain once again in Azerbaijan in 2016, coming through in a penalty shootout.

João Santos highlighted the willpower his players possess: "Never give up. That's been the motto, so what I do here is tell my players that they can never give up on the dream we bring. It came true, it could have been easier, we played a great second half, we didn't go in so well in the game, but we ended up having enough opportunities to not end the first half with that result.

“At half-time, what I gave them was confidence, we've been in situations like this this year, even losing 2-0 and we managed to turn the result around, that's what they did until the end and they are to be congratulated, because they always believed. The opportunities we created didn't appear, but I also always told them that our moment would appear and it did at the end.

“One of the mottos we have in the dressing room is that when there is no strength, there is willpower. Today has been that, we cannot forget that Serbia had another day of rest and we played a luxurious second half, the putting pressure on Serbia, they have more physical difficulty than us. And even with this tiredness, when there is a desire, our strength comes to the fore."

Rodrigo Mora is having an outstanding tournament and is all but certain to finish as top scorer in Cyprus. He highlighted the never give up attitude in the team: "It was a game between two great teams. We had three chances, we couldn't score, they had some luck, scored two goals, but we knew we could turn the game around.

"We didn't do that in the first half, in the second we had a cool head, we were lucky with the first goal and then we fought until the 95th minute and managed to score the third."

"We also lacked a little efficiency, but I think the most important thing was to never give up. We knew that a goal would take it to penalties, but after making it 2-2 we fought for a third goal and I think the fact that we never give up is always in our game."

By Matthew Marshall at AEK Arena

Highlights

Line Up

Portugal (4-2-3-1):  Diogo Ferreira - Duarte Soares, Rui Silva, Afonso Sousa, Martim Cunha (Edgar Mota 61’) - Eduardo Felicíssimo, João Simões (Tiago Ferreira 66’) - Geovany Quenda (João Trovisco 86’), Rodrigo Mora, Cardoso Varela (Eduardo Fernandes 46’) - Gabriel Silva (Afonso Patrão 61’)

Unused Substitutes: Miguel Gouveia, Rafael Mota, David Daiber, Afonso Meireles

Coach: João Santos

Goals:

[0-1] Mihajlo Cvetković 22'

[0-2] Eduardo Felicíssimo OG 37'

[1-2] Aleksa Damjanović OG 60'

[2-2] Rodrigo Mora 89'

[3-2] João Trovisco 90+5'