Portugal 2-1 Austria
2014 UEFA U-19 European Championship
The Portuguese gained a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Austria Friday to advance to the semi-finals of the 2014 UEFA U-19 European Championship. Though the Austrians were worthy opponents and may have deserved to get more out of the game, goals from Tomas Podstawski and Romario Balde were enough for Portugal to squeeze through. This victory means that Portugal finished first in Group A, and is set to face Serbia in the semi-final match tomorrow, the very team that knocked Portugal out in last year’s edition of the tournament. Things look different this time around, but it will certainly be an entertaining encounter. Let’s take a look at how Portugal fared Friday against Austria.
Because they were already guaranteed a semi-final spot going into this match, the Portuguese fielded a noticeably weaker side than in their first two matches. Andre Moreira retained his spot inbetween the sticks, while the back four in front of him was much changed. Rafa and Domingos Duarte started in their usual spots, on the left and in the center, respectively, while Jordan Machado and Rebocho replaced regulars Joao Nunes and Mauro Riquicho, respectively. In midfield, captain and midfield anchor Tomas Podstawski retained his starting position and was joined by Joao Palhinha and Raphael Guzzo. Marcos Lopes was left on the bench to avoid suspension, due to a yellow card he picked up in the game against Hungary. On the wings were Ivo Rodrigues and Jorge Intima, while Andre Silva spearheaded the attack up front.
Portugal were a bit spoiled in their first two matches, defeating both Israel and Hungary by large margins. The difference in quality was evident between Portugal and their opposition, and they defeated them accordingly. Austria was in much the same boat, also defeating both Israel and Hungary in their first two matches. As a result, the Austrians and the Portuguese were largely evenly-matched teams, and the beginning of the match reflected that perfectly. Neither side looked truly any better than the other, and both teams pressed each other a great deal. As a result, the match began with a high intensity that lasted straight until the half.
Portugal have gained quite a reputation this tournament for their superior technical ability. They have used this ability to their advantage by playing a quick, short passing game, much like the Spanish have done in recent years. To be able to play this way is impressive, but also can be a liability. Teams can easily shot down this playing style, so a lack of tactical flexibility can sometimes hurt a team. In this game against Austria, the Portuguese played a much more direct game, constantly firing long passes up-field and into the box. This was a smart tactic by the Portuguese, who knew that Austria’s tenacity and defensive discipline would not bode well for their short-passing offensive game. And while the Portuguese’s direct play did not get them a goal, it certainly gave the Austrians problems.
Soon before the end of the half, Portugal reverted to their short passing game, and to good effect. The Portuguese began to dominate the match, and it paid off just minutes later. Portugal won a free-kick in the Austrian half, and the kick was swung in by Ivo Rodrigues. His cross was met by the head of captain Tomas Podstawski, whose header guided the ball into the back of the net. It was the perfect time to score, because Portugal went into the half the better side and with a goal to show for it.
As predicted, the Austrians came out in the second half with much more attacking intent, and were almost immediately rewarded. The Austrians scored not even two minutes after the restart and leveled the game at 1-1. And they didn’t stop there. Constantly pressing, Austria truly was the better side for the majority of the second half. Portugal looked keen on sitting back and playing to the draw, a result that would still see them top of Group A on goal difference. Despite this, Portugal did score late in the game through the team’s youngest player, Romario Balde. Rafa was sent free on the left and passed the ball to Balde, who expertly touched the ball into a shooting position and shot the ball into the bottom corner. It was impressive play from a 17 year old, and one that many players much older than Balde would be proud of. That goal was enough to give the Portuguese a 2-1 victory in a game that was largely even.
Portugal will now face Serbia, the very team which knocked the Seleccao out last year. But it is worth noting that this year’s Serbian side is not nearly as impressive as last year’s side, which went all the way and won the tournament. This year’s side is certainly not one to laugh at, but one may feel that the Serbians are not as strong as last year.
Andre Moreira, Rebocho, Jordan Machado, Rafa, Domingos Duarte, Joao Palhinha, Raphael Guzzo(Mauro Riquicho), Tomas Podstawski, Ivo Rodrigues, Jorge Intima(Gelson Martins), Andre Silva(Romario Balde)