U-21s Qualify in Rollercoaster Match

Portugal U21 - After Playoff with Netherlands for 2015 U-21 Euro qualification

Portugal 5-4 Holland

2015 U-21 Euro Qualifying Playoff Leg 2

The Portuguese Under-21 team defeated the Netherlands yesterday 5-4 in the second leg of a playoff for qualification to the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship. With the 2-0 victory in the first leg, Portugal qualified comfortably by a margin of 7-4. Goals yesterday came from Ricardo (2), Ruben Vezo, Ruben Neves, and Bernardo Silva, and although the scoreline appears close at 5-4, the match was much more one-sided (as was the case in the first leg).

The Portuguese came into this match at a distinct advantage, having won the first leg away by a margin of 2-0. Those two goals were away goals, which gave them a considerable cushion coming into the 2nd leg, which was at home. Rui Jorge named a team that was familiar; one that was almost identical to the one from the 1st leg. Jose Sa resumed his role as undisputed starter in goal, while Raphael Guerreiro, Paulo Oliveira, Ruben Vezo, and Ricardo Esgaio lined up in front of him from left to right. In midfield, Ruben Neves occupied the holding, defensive role, and was partnered by Sergio Oliveira, who also played defensively-minded. In front of him were Toze, who replaced the injured Rafa, and Bernardo Silva, who both were very attacking-minded. Up front, Ivan Cavaleiro and Ricardo Pereira spearheaded the attack. The system was identical to the one Fernando Santos has employed in the senior team, with Bernardo Silva playing as a deep-lying false-nine/attacking midfielder.

The match started slowly, but in the favor of the Portuguese. Within the first minute, Toze came close to opening the scoring, as his header went just wide. And the Portuguese wouldn’t have to wait very long for a goal. Sergio Oliveira won a foul on the edge of the box. Toze sent the cross in, which was met by Ruben Vezo, whose heel flick sent the ball into the net. But just two minutes later, slightly against the run of play, Holland scored through their big target man, Wout Weghorst. But just five minutes later, Portugal again took the lead. Portugal won a corner, which was swung in and met by the head of Ruben Neves, who was left criminally unmarked. For the rest of the half, it was largely even, with both goalkeepers making some important stops. But just before the half, the Netherlands tied the game up. After some superb wing play from Benfica winger Ola John, his cross found the head of Terence Kongolo to level the scores at 2-2.

Just after the half began, Portugal were again on top. A long ball found Ricardo Pereira, who deftly opened up space for a shot, despite being marked by two Dutch defenders. His left footed shot squeezed in the bottom corner, and the score was 3-2. Then, 14 minutes later, the Dutch once again tied up the game, this time through Nathan Ake, whose late arrival on a corner kick left him unmarked and able to poke the ball into the net. Just two minutes after that, Ricardo Pereira struck once again. A beautiful flowing move ended in Ricardo Pereira receiving the ball. Once again, the Dutch defenders stood off the winger, and once again, he did admirably to find space for the shot, this time tucking the ball away with his right foot. From that point forward, it was almost completely a one-horse race. Substitutes Carlos Mane and Iuri Medeiros both came close, and it was clear that the Netherlands were having a difficult time coping with the Portuguese. Two minutes from time, it was all put to bed. Bernardo Silva received the ball, and went one-on-one with the keeper on a breakaway. The Dutch defenders caught up to Silva, who fell down, got up, turned with the ball, and shot past the Dutch goalkeeper to extend Portugal’s lead to 5-3. Nathan Ake did manage to pull one back for the Netherlands two minutes later, but it was too little too late.

This Portuguese team is heralded as one of the finest to pass through the youth ranks in recent years. Some are even going as far as to compare it to the Golden Generation that were victorious at youth level, winning the 1989 and 1991 U-20 World Cups, before moving to the senior team, where they also found success. That Golden Generation contained the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Fernando Couto, so such a comparison can be viewed as a stretch at this point. But there is good reason for optimism. Next summer will be the first time Portugal has appeared in a U-21 Euro since 2007. And they didn’t just qualify, scraping past their opponents. The team completed qualification with a perfect record, out-scoring their opponents 29-10. It still remains unclear whether this youth side can become Portugal’s next “Golden Generation.” Only time will tell, but it looks likely.

Jose Sa, Raphael Guerreiro, Paulo Oliveira, Ruben Vezo, Ricardo Esgaio, Sergio Oliveira, Ruben Neves, Toze(Iuri Medeiros), Bernardo Silva, Ricardo Pereira(Ricardo Horta), Ivan Cavaleiro(Carlos Mane)


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