Portugal’s U21 team made the play-offs for the 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a 4-2 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Estádio dos Barreiros in Madeira tonight. The win followed a commanding 9-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein to leave Rui Jorge’s side on 22 points in Group 8.
Romania topped the group but Portugal were good enough to be one of the four best runners-up. They will meet Greece, Poland or Austria in the play-offs which will be held in November.
One-way traffic in Liechtenstein
Group 8 whipping boys Liechtenstein never stood a chance against Portugal and went behind as early as the 2nd minute through a Noah Graber own goal. Bruno Costa hit the woodwork before producing a cross to the back post, Mathias Lage squaring to Heriberto Tavares who headed in from close range to make it 2-0.
João Filipe was fouled outside the area on the stroke of half-time, the U19 star stepping up to fire a free kick past Armandno Majer. 3-0. It was 4-0 a minute after the restart with Tavares bundling home his second goal after a defensive mix-up. Tavares should have completed his hat-trick but saw a close-range header saved by Majer. It was soon 5-0 however, Tavares brought down in the box with Diogo Gonçalves sending Majer the wrong way from the penalty spot.
No respite for the hosts
Gonçalves crossed to Tavares who tapped in from close range for Portugal’s 6th before substitute Diogo Jota finished from a tight angle. 7-0. Some impressive play from Bruno Costa in added time saw his cross find substitute Gil Dias who made no mistake. 8-0. Liechtenstein then conceded a minute later to complete the rout, Moreirense striker Tavares getting his fourth goal as he headed home from a corner. 9-0.
Portugal’s fate in their own hands
The results elsewhere across Europe were fortunate for Portugal who knew a win against Bosnia-Herzegovina would secure a playoff spot. Manager Rui Jorge made seven changes with only Dalot, Jorge Fernandes, Pêpê Rodrigues and João Filipe keeping their spots in Madeira.
Diogo Jota had an early chance and João Félix headed wide as Portugal signaled their intent. Pêpê Rodrigues tried a shot from distance before André Horta showed him how it’s done, finding the bottom corner with a powerful long-range effort to open the scoring.
Horta tried his luck again from distance which tested keeper Nemanja Trkulja before João Filipe headed wide. Diogo Dalot was heavily involved at right-back and João Félix was busy across the attacking line as the hosts dominated the match.
Portugal were cruising towards a 1-0 half-time lead but were shaken when the visitors equalised. A slick passing move saw Ermedin Demirović beat the offside trap, control and fire past Joel Castro to make it 1-1.
Diogo Gonçalves replaced Dalot shortly after the restart and immediately got involved by picking up a caution. The Seleção then regained the lead in fortunate circumstances, a deflected shot coming back off the bar to João Félix who pounced to fire it home.
It would soon be 3-1 after a fabulous solo run from Diogo Gonçalves. Picking up the ball on the right wing, the Nottingham Forest winger beat a number of helpless Bosnia-Herzegovina bystanders before firing home for his seventh goal of the campaign.
Portugal too strong
Portugal controlled proceedings and extended their lead in added time. The impressive João Filipe drove into the penalty box, beating a number of players before chipping into the net, with substitute Heriberto Tavares getting a touch on the line to make sure.
A clumsy collision from a free kick between Joel Castro and Diogo Leite allowed Aldin Turkes to stroke the ball into an empty net, but it was too little too late for Bosnia as Portugal secured a deserved 4-2 victory.
It was a solid performance from Rui Jorge’s men with notable contributions from Diogo Dalot, André Horta, João Filipe, João Félix, Diogo Jota and Diogo Gonçalves off the bench. There is an abundance of quality in this team with speed and skill at the forefront.
Greece were the best runners-up on 25 points with Poland, Austria and Portugal all finishing with 22 points. The four nations will be in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off draw at 13:00CET in Nyon on Friday 19 October.
The play-offs will decide the last two places in the finals with the two home-and-away ties to be played between 12 and 20 November 2018. The two winners will join the nine group winners and co-hosts Italy in the finals which will take place in Italy and San Marino between 16 and 30 June 2019.
Portugal have never won the tournament, finishing as runners-up on two occasions. They lost the 1994 final in France with a 1-0 extra-time defeat against Italy with a team that included Rui Costa, Luís Figo and tournament top scorer João Pinto.
They made the final again in the Czech Republic in 2015, losing to Sweden on penalties after the match finished 0-0. José Sá, Ricardo Esgaio, Raphaël Guerreiro, William Carvalho, Sérgio Oliveira, Bernardo Silva, Ricardo Pereira and João Mário all started with Rafa Silva, João Cancelo and Rúben Neves unused substitutes.
The current crop of talent might not be such heralded names - for now - but Rui Jorge will be confident his Esperanças can make a splash next year should they negotiate the playoff and keep up their free-scoring ways.