England 0-1 Portugal
2015 U-21 European Championship
In an entertaining and tight contest, the Portuguese defeated England in both teams’ first match of the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship. João Mário scored the solitary goal of the match, which was all that separated two very even teams. Portugal’s play was much improved over the last time the team met England, which was in a friendly match late last year. In that match, Portugal struggled to control the midfield. In this match, Portugal held their own.
U-21 head coach Rui Jorge opted for an interesting, but not a new lineup. Keeping with Portugal’s beloved 4-3-3 formation, José Sá started in goal. In front of him (from left-to-right) were Guerreiro, Ilori, Oliveira, and Esgaio, the usual suspects in Portugal’s defense. In midfield, William Carvalho operated as the team’s anchor, with Sérgio Oliveira in a linking role and João Mário in a more advanced role. Up top (depending on your perspective) was Bernardo Silva, who played a more withdrawn false-nine role, and was supported on the wings by Ivan Cavaleiro and Ricardo Pereira. Bernardo Silva could almost have been considered another midfielder, but found himself in advanced positions often during the match.
The game’s opening exchanges were truly back-and-forth. Both teams were visibly hungry for possession and willing to take chances in attack. England in particular created most of their attacks from the wing. Right-back Carl Jenkinson would bomb forward, overlapping his winger, causing problems for Portuguese left-back Guerreiro. Despite this pressure, Portugal held their own and attacked fluidly and often. There was rarely a sense of domination from either team, even when they were in possession. The match was truly an even affair. Both teams came close on multiple occasions. Some long-range shooting from Portugal’s Sérgio Oliveira and England’s Jesse Lingard came close to breaking the deadlock, but both teams went into halftime even both in the scoreline and in the chances created.
Portugal came out the second half perhaps the better team, but as in the first half, the match was mostly even. Despite this, Portugal broke the deadlock just before the hour mark. Ricardo Pereira found himself with a bit of space on the edge of the box. His attempted pass to João Mário was deflected and fell to the feet of Bernardo Silva. Silva shot for the bottom corner, but the ball instead struck the up-right and bounced right into the path of Mário, who calmly stroked the ball into the empty net. With Portugal now up 1-0, the game’s end-to-end fluid attacking style devolved to a scrappy affair. England were searching for an equalizer, and Portugal were looking to defend their lead with their life. That’s not to say that Portugal stopped all attack after their goal. They continued to play a balanced game in all aspects. Despite falling behind, England were unable to find an equalizer. Harry Kane, Nathan Redmond, Jesse Lingard and a whole host of other players had efforts either saved to seen wide, as Portugal held on for the win.
Portugal is now set to face Italy on Sunday afternoon 8:45 PM local time (2:45 PM EST). Italy were defeated 2-1 in their first match against Sweden (who also defeated France in the play-offs). Expect this to be an exciting match. Should Portugal win, they would clinch a spot in the semi-finals and would also qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
José Sá, Ricardo Esgaio, Paulo Oliveira, Tiago Ilori, Raphaël Guerreiro, William Carvalho, Sérgio Oliveira, Bernardo Silva, João Mário(Rúben Neves), Ricardo Pereira(Carlos Mané), Ivan Cavaleiro(Iuri Medeiros)
PortugalFutbol Player of the Match: Sérgio Oliveira
Though William Carvalho received much of the attention after the match, Sérgio Oliveira‘s calm and confident performance both in defense and attack was the driving force behind the team’s success against England.