Portugal 2-0 Serbia
Portugal got their Euro 2017 campaign off to a positive start with a hard-fourght 2-0 victory over Serbia on a sunny afternoon in Poland.
A goal in each half from Gonçalo Guedes and captain Bruno Fernandes was enough to earn three precious points for the Seleção.
The result was far better than the performance, with a disjointed Portugal often looking second best, but truth be told Portugal goalkeeper Bruno Varela did not have a difficult save to make all game.
Coach Rui Jorge made a strong statement with his team selection at the Bydgoszcz Stadium, showing faith in his squad and perhaps an eye on Spain by leaving Renato Sanches and Bruma on the bench.
Neves denied by woodwork
Portugal had a great chance to take the lead early on. Bruno Fernandes' free-kick was flicked on by Gonçalo Guedes to Rúben Neves at the back post but his volley rebounded off the post as Serbia cleared the danger.
Serbia had chances of their own soon after but were unable to capitalise. Edgar Ié’s sloppy give-away went unpunished before João Cancelo produced a crucial challenge to deny Marko Grujić a great opportunity.
Rúben Semedo then picked up a yellow card in a dangerous position for a sliding challenge on Aleksandar Čavrić. Benfica’s Andrija Živković stepped up but could only blast his free kick into the wall.
Portugal were threatening down the right flank, mainly due to the excellent João Cancelo who was contributing well in attack and linking up with João Carvalho and Guedes. Clear-cut chances were proving hard to come by for both sides however, Diogo Jota and Guedes struggling to get on the ball in dangerous areas.
Serbia were looking dangerous with right-back Milan Gajić combining with Živković. Their best chance came midway through the first half as Živković sliced open the Portuguese defence with a through ball to Uroš Đurđević, the Partizan striker wasting the chance with a tame effort well wide. Bruno Varela then had to rush out of his area to clear the danger after Aleksandar Čavrić ran in behind the Portuguese defence, Serbia well on top with main instigator Živković looking particularly dangerous.
Portugal then had half a chance but Jota couldn’t steer Cancelo’s free kick towards goal, but the Seleção would soon take the lead. Jota produced a fine pass for Daniel Podence who drove to the by-line, his cross met by the hand of keeper Savić with the ball popping straight up to Guedes who headed in from close range.
Portugal gained confidence and started knocking the ball around well to close out the half, Guedes in particular looking assured with surging runs and silky skills.
Jorge brought on Bruma for Jota after the break as Serbia replaced striker Čavrić with Srđan Plavšić. Ruben Neves wasn’t about to let Guedes steal the show, a brilliant turn drawing a foul from Gaćinović which earned a yellow card.
Portugal were playing well as Bruno Fernandes tried to find Joao Carvalho at the back post, the midfielder just unable get a touch on it. Unfortunately, that moment started a long period in the game where the Seleção got sloppy and Serbia surged back into the contest.
Grujić saw his long-range effort comfortably saved by Varela before Živković’s cross picked out Grujić in a great position but the Liverpool player missed the chance by heading wide.
Rui Jorge responded to the situation by bringing on Renato Sanches for Joao Carvalho. Gaćinović was looking to increase his involvement and shot a weak effort at Varela before Jorge made his final substitution, Iuri Medeiros on for Daniel Podence.
Nemanja Radonjić came on for Grujić and immediately made an impact, blasting a shot over the bar before a corner was headed his way which he once again smashed high and wide. The game was opening up which was giving Rui Jorge heart palpitations on the sideline, Portugal losing possession too easily and inviting unwanted pressure from the Serbians.
Bruma started to benefit from the open space, Leipzig’s new speedster surging into the box before his shot was blocked. Medeiros then had a great chance to kill the game, cutting inside Antonov from the right wing onto his favoured left foot, but with just Savić to beat his curling effort went wide.
With time running out Portugal eventually scored the crucial second goal. Renato Sanches had been quiet after his introduction, but in an instant he received the ball, summed up the situation and dinked the ball over the defence into the path of captain Bruno Fernandes, whose cool control and finish secured the victory.
Portugal didn’t play their best football but opening the tournament with three points was absolutely crucial with Spain next up. Guedes showed his class, Ruben Neves controlled the game from his deep midfield position and João Cancelo was particularly effective at right back.
Kevin Rodrigues’ performance may concern Rui Jorge. The 23-year-old hasn’t managed to break into the Real Sociedad team since he moved to Spain two years ago and he struggled here. The difference in class between Portugal’s full-backs was night and day, and despite Rodrigues going up against Serbia’s maestro Živković, Pedro Rebocho might come into contention for the left-back position.
Serbia were always going to be a tough team to beat with many of their players part of the successful U20 World Cup winning squad in 2015. Portugal got the victory they required in Bydgoszcz but Spain shape up as a much more difficult proposition on Tuesday.
By Matthew Marshall (Twitter @noobzcorp)
Portugal XI v Serbia: Bruno Varela, João Cancelo, Edgar Ié, Rúben Semedo, Kevin Rodrigues, Rúben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, João Carvalho (Renato Sanches 59’), Daniel Podence (Iuri Medeiros 68’), Diogo Jota (Bruma 46’), Gonçalo Guedes
[1-0] Gonçalo Guedes,
[2-0] Bruno Fernandes