Following three successive wins, the Portuguese Under-19 team has qualified for the Elite Qualification round for next summer’s UEFA U-19 European Championship. Led by rising stars such as Renato Sanches, Gil Dias, and Goncalo Guedes, the team qualified with relative ease, which shows just how strong Portugal’s youth system is at the moment. Should Portugal qualify for next summer’s tournament, it will be the fourth year in a row that the team has managed an appearance in the competition. That statistic is encouraging, and with players such as Marcos Lopes, Bernardo Silva, Andre Gomes, Joao Mario, and Bruma in recent years, there is every reason that this current group of U-19s is destined for success.
In Portugal’s qualifying group was Wales, Albania, and Denmark, three teams which, while not being known as power-house teams, had the potential to cause problems for Portugal. All games occurred, as is customary, in a five-day mini-tournament, which was held in Portugal. In Portugal’s first game, the team overcame a difficult Wales side 2-1. Benfica’s Hildeberto Pereira opened up the scoring with a fine header on the half-hour mark, which was cancelled out by a tap-in goal from Wales winger Harry Wilson. Late in the match, however, new Monaco signing Gil Dias rifled in a shot from outside of the box, which whistled past the Welsh goalkeeper for Portugal’s second. Click here for highlights.
Two days later, the team faced the Albanians, who they beat with ease. Goals from Paulo Cabral, Renato Sanches, Hildeberto Pereira, and Goncalo Guedes were enough to push Portugal to a 4-1 victory. Three of Portugal’s four goals occurred within the first quarter of an hour, as the Portuguese began the match with a very attacking mentality. The team’s first goal came from Paulo Cabral, who has made 14 first team appearances at Santa Clara this season. Good work on the wing from Goncalo Guedes and a deflected shot from Hildeberto Pereira opened Paulo Cabral for an easy tap-in. Just five minutes later, Portugal doubled their lead. Renato Sanches received the ball on an overlapping run and deftly tucked the ball away on the near post with his left foot. And just five minutes later, Portugal struck once more, and in spectacular fashion. A curling, left-footed cross was put into the box, and was met by the head of Renato Sanches, who headed the ball back into the middle, where Hildeberto Pereira was waiting, criminally unmarked. Pereira steadied himself, jumped, and bicycle-kicked the ball past the Albanian goalkeeper. But Portugal was not yet done. Renato Sanches found the on-rushing Goncalo Guedes on the left wing, and the Benfica man finished with confidence to make the score 4-0 for Portugal. A second-half goal from Albania’s Esad Morina was not nearly enough for the visitors, as Portugal ran out 4-1 victors. Click here for highlights.
In Portugal’s final game of the group, the team defeated Denmark 2-1, thanks to goals from Goncalo Guedes and Diogo Jota. The Portuguese were the first to strike, and the goal was a spectacular one from Benfica’s wonderkid Goncalo Guedes. The winger curled a vicious free kick into the upper corner of the net and past the Danish goalkeeper to give Portugal the lead. But just after the half-time break, Denmark struck back through Rezan Corlu, who coolly finished off an excellent move. 15 minutes later, however, Diogo Jota’s deflected shot popped past the Danish goalkeeper to give Portugal a 2-1 victory. Click here for highlights.
So what kind of talent does this team have? Who are the star players? Let’s take a look.
The obvious star of this team is Goncalo Guedes, who has become one of the most sought-after teenagers in Europe. Still only 17, Guedes has already drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, and it comes as little surprise. The winger has established himself as an important part of Helder Cristovao’s Benfica B team, and his performances recently won him the award for the Segunda Liga’s best player for the month of October. A whole host of top European clubs are interested in him, including Monaco, PSG, and Arsenal.
Other potential stars include Renato Sanches, who despite only being 17, is already a part of Benfica’s B team. Captain Sergio Ribeiro is touted to have a bright future in midfield, while forwards Hildeberto Pereira and Romario Balde and midfielder Gil Dias are also viewed as prospects.
Portugal’s future looks bright, but one must make sure that these kids are not over-hyped. Fans of the sport must understand that these players are only teenagers, and while highly talented at the moment, there is still much development to happen, both physically and psychologically. Having said that, there is reason for optimism.