Portugal’s U21 team face a tough road to the 2019 U21 European Championships despite a 2-0 win in Wales yesterday. A 2-1 home defeat against Romania on Friday night put Rui Jorge’s side in an uphill battle to qualify for next summer’s tournament in Italy.
PortuGOAL rounds up the two matches and explains the permutations that will see the Seleção make qualification.
Portugal 1-2 Romania
Portugal started well against Romania in Paços de Ferreira, Heriberto Tavares looking dangerous up front and João Félix creating havoc all over the pitch.
Captain Diogo Jota was heavily involved, shooting over the bar and combining well with Tavares. However, left-back Yuri Ribeiro was beaten by Dennis Man who forced a fine save from Joel Castro.
Stephen Eustáquio and Félix missed chances and João Carvalho had a shot blocked as the visitors survived until half-time without conceding. Rui Jorge replaced Eustáquio with Portugal’s U19 star João Filipe at the break in an attempt to force the issue.
However, against the run of play it would be Romania who would take the lead. Florinel Coman laid it off to Alexandru Cicâldău who beat Castro with a low drive and not long after it was 2-0.
Man’s through ball to Andrei Ivan beat the offside trap, the Rapid Vienna striker rounding Castro before tucking it home. Gil Dias replaced Tavares and in the 71st minute Portugal were given a lifeline with Romania’s Alexandru Pascanu sent off.
Diogo Gonçalves replaced right-back Fernando Fonseca as Portugal continued to press. João Carvalho headed in a corner at the back post to make it 2-1 in the 85th minute as the match became one-way traffic.
Romania were then reduced to nine men after Ivan was sent off. Portugal were denied two penalty shouts in added time, but in the 98th minute a spot kick was finally awarded after Radu Bobic brought down Carvalho.
The 21-year-old Nottingham Forest player stepped up for the equaliser, but Ioni Radu guessed correctly and saved the effort as the visitors took all three points. It was a bitter blow for the Esperanças who dropped to third in Group 8 with three games remaining, while Romania significantly boosted their chances.
Wales 0-2 Portugal
Rui Jorge’s men travelled to Bangor to take on Wales with nothing less than victory required to keep their qualification hopes alive. Three changes were made with Diogo Leite, André Horta and Mathias Lage replacing Francisco Ferreira, Eustáquio and Tavares.
The home side created chances early on but midway through the first half Portugal began to assert their authority. They took the lead in the 35h minute thanks to a swerving long-range strike from Horta that flew into the top corner.
The second half began well for the visitors until Yuri Ribeiro received a second yellow card and was sent off. Gonçalves replaced Lage and slotted into right-back as the home side sensed an opportunity.
Substitute Rabbi Matondo was a constant threat and had opportunities to score, but fortunately Portugal extended their lead to 2-0. Horta and substitute Gil Dias combined with Dias’ low cross finding Félix who hit a first-time effort into the bottom corner.
It was a solid performance from Portugal who are still in the running for a place at the 2019 UEFA European U21 Championships in Italy, although qualification is now out of their hands.
The winners of each of the nine qualifying groups progress to the 2019 U21 European Championships in Italy with the four best runners-up taking part in the playoffs for the final two spots.
Portugal can still qualify by both methods but need results elsewhere to go their way. They can win Group 8 with an away win against bottom placed Liechtenstein on October 11 and a home win against Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 16.
However, Rui Jorge’s side would need Romania to lose one of their two home games against Wales and Liechtenstein, as Romania won the head-to-head battle against Portugal with a draw and a win.
The playoff route is still an option if Romania top the group. Portugal can go above Bosnia-Herzegovina and claim second spot in Group 8 with two wins, but there are second placed teams in other groups with more points on the board.
Portugal are currently on 16 points but Austria (18), Poland (18), Croatia (19) and Sweden (20) currently have the upper hand in the race to the playoffs.
Jorge’s side appear to be top heavy with so much exciting attacking talent on display but while there is hope the battle must go on. “If Romania had lost today we would depend only on ourselves to qualify,” said the Portugal coach. “Now we must hope Romania slip up and make sure we win our remaining two matches.”
Portugal won the U19 European Championships to qualify for the U20 World Cup in Poland, and several members of that age group are in this U21 side who will be giving their all to be able to compete in Italy next summer.
By Matthew Marshall