Norway 1-2 Portugal
2015 UEFA U-21 Euro Qualification
The Portuguese Under-21 team defeated Norway 2-1 yesterday to continue their perfect qualification campaign for the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship. The game was a much different encounter than the last time the two teams met, which ended in a 5-1 demolition by Portugal. This time out, the two teams were much more evenly-matched, and Portugal was not able to waltz to victory. This win kept Portugal at the top of Group 8 with a perfect record. The team has only conceded five goals in the seven matches thus-far in qualification, and has retained positive results throughout qualification, despite losing players such as Andre Gomes, Ivan Cavaleiro, and William Carvalho to the Senior National Team.
The Portuguese came into this game already qualified for the playoffs, having secured a top spot in the group. The only real reason for this match was to build confidence and gain more time on the field as a team. Also, Portugal was defending their perfect record in qualifying thus far. And early into the game, it appeared that this match would go much like the last time they played Norway. The Portuguese team dominated the opening exchanges, though the match took time to settle. Once both teams found their rhythm, the match was a lively, even affair, with both Portugal and Norway playing impressively. Though both teams appeared adept at possession, it was Portugal who fashioned the better chances on goal. And it was Portugal who opened the scoring. Some lax defensive work from Norway gave over possession in their midfield. Ricardo Esgaio picked up the ball and passed the ball upfield to Goncalo Paciencia. Paciencia then had the clarity of mind to look up and feed the ball to the on-rushing (and un-marked) Carlos Mane. Mane picked up the pass, took a few touches to steady himself, and calmly slotted the ball home. It was a confident goal that perfectly encapsulated Portugal’s play up to that point. The ease at which Portugal scored their goal left the feeling that they would run away with the game, as they have done countless times in this qualification cycle. That didn’t quite prove to be the case, as Norway defended diligently and capably. Just before half-time, however, Goncalo Paciencia pulled up injured after an awkward fall. The striker was substituted off for Ricardo, of Porto. Ricardo was moved to the left wing, and the goalscorer, Carlos Mane, was moved to the central role of striker.
The second half began with little incident, with both teams settling evenly into a flow. After the game settled down, it was Norway that looked the more lively, with the young 15 year-old Martin Odegaard proving difficult to handle for the Portuguese. Norway, realizing that anything less than a win would effectively eliminate the possibility of qualification, were a much different-looking team in the second half, dominating most of the proceedings. Despite this domination, Portugal still continued to have the cutting edge that Norway lacked. And this cutting edge paid off right around the hour mark. Joao Mario fed a ball to Ricardo Pereira, who, surrounded by Norwegian defenders, took a touch and skillfully finished near-post (and with his weaker left foot) past the Norwegian ‘keeper. Overall, a 2-0 scoreline was justified at that point, as Portugal had dominated the majority of the game up until that point. Norway were threatening, and their pressure paid off just minutes after Ricardo’s goal. The Norwegians pulled on back through Bakenga, who is the spearhead of the team’s attack. With the score now at 2-1, the remainder of the game was a tense one, with Norway within one goal of ruining Portugal’s loss-less record. Portuguese wonderkid Marcos Lopes had been brought on before the second-half goals, and his play proved to be a highlight in the time remaining in the match. Lopes hit the post with one play and one surging run and subsequent shot forced an excellent save out of the Norwegian goalkeeper. With Portugal looking comfortable and able to defend their lead, debutant Helder Costa, of Benfica’s B team, came on for Carlos Mane. Though the scoreline was close going into the final minutes of the match, little of note occurred, and Portugal walked away with a well-fought 2-1 victory.
The team will now face Azerbaijan in their final 2015 UEFA U-21 Euro qualification match, to be played on September 9th. For that match, Ruben Pinto (Benfica B), Andre Silva (Porto B), and Tiago Silva (Belenenses) have been called.
Bruno Varela, Ricardo Esgaio, Paulo Oliveira, Miguel Rodrigues, Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Oliveira, Rafa(Marcos Lopes), Carlos Mane(Helder Costa), Goncalo Paciencia(Ricardo)