Portugal’s promising U-21 side travel to Slovenia with a promising array of young talent, many of whom have tangible first team experience. As Esperanças or the ‘hopes’ of Portugal’s future they will be hoping to at minimum, match their best foray into the Euro U21 Finals, losing in the final on penalties to Sweden in 2015.
The U21 Euro’s follows a unique structure, it will be played in two sections jointly hosted by Hungary and Slovenia. The group stages take place between 24th – 31st March initially, and the knockout stages will follow in June (31st May – 6th June). Rui Jorge’s side have been in a drawn in group D alongside England, Croatia and Switzerland, and have to finish in the top 2 to progress to the knockout stages.
Portugal are not considered among the main favourites with France, Spain, Germany and England taking up that mantle. However, Portugal won 9 of 10 qualifiers and internally will be confident going into the tournament. Rui Jorge expressed concern about the lack of preparation going into the group stage.
“The biggest challenge is not exactly the division of this final phase, but the preparation time. We will not think of the two [phases], let’s think only of the first, but the biggest challenge is to play three games without preparation time for any of them. I think this is what differs from all the previous final stages ”, stressed Rui Jorge, in an interview in Cidade do Futebol.
Clearly Portugal have a talented squad, whilst France manager Sylvian Ripol boasts an impressive squad with players such as the mercurial Houseem Aouar, and wonderkid Eduaordo Camvinga, Portugal have stars of their own with household names such as Gedson Fernandes of Spurs, Trincao of Barcelona and Diogo Leite of Porto.
Rui Jorge is confident in his squad and stated “I believe this generation has players who, if they continue to develop, can also progress to the senior team.”
Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa (Porto), João Virginia (Everton), Luís Maximiano (Sporting CP)
Defenders: Diogo Leite (Porto), Diogo Queirós (Famalicão), Tiago Djaló (Lille), Diogo Dalot (AC Milan), Tomás Tavares (Farense), Thierry Correia (Valencia), Pedro Pereira (Crotone)
Midfielders: Florentino Luis (Monaco), Gedson Fernandes (Galatasaray), Vitinha (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Daniel Bragança (Sporting CP), Fábio Vieira (Porto), João Mário (Porto), Pedro Gonçalves (Sporting CP)
Forwards: Dany Mota (Monza), Trincão (Barcelona), Francisco Conceição (Porto), Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica), Tiago Tomás (Sporting CP)
Losing Nuno Mendes and Pedro Neto to the senior team will weaken Jorge’s men. With Rafael Leao and Jota also withdrawing due to injury who are the key men for As Esperanças?
Trincão – Barcelona
Barcelona’s youth revolution, shepherded by Lionel Messi has been one of the bright spots in a tumultuous season for the Catalan club, and Trincao has played his part. Whilst he has struggled to replicate the form he showed at Braga last season, he has shown positive signs recently picking up 3 goals and an assist in his last 10 games. He brings natural width to the attack, and possess skill with the ball at his feet, watch out for a trademark powerful left footed finish from the Barca man.
Fabio Vieira – Porto
Fabio Vieira was the top scorer in the qualifying campaign and the attacking midfielder is the latest off Porto’s academy conveyor belt. Vieira broke into the senior squad last season and has progressed further making 20 appearances for Porto this season. His only senior goal this year came in the Champions League group stage against Olympiakos. His strengths lie in his vision and chance creation, he likes to have the ball at his feet and his slight frame and balance allow him to glide accross the pitch. He will be an asset to Portugal in the final third and can affect the game with goals and assists.
Pedro Goncalves – Sporting
The current top scorer in the Primeira Liga with 15 goals and 3 assists, Pedro Gonçalves has stepped seamlessly into the shoes of Bruno Fernandes, and has fired Sporting 10 points clear at the top of the league. He can play as an attacking midfielder or on the wing and whilst he is strong in his finishing and passing going forward, he doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities and has the work rate to match. Clearly if he can carry this form to his national side it would do their chances no harm.
Rui Jorge’s confidence in his sides chances may also stem from his assessment of the opponents stating he knew the other three teams “very well” Starting with Croatia, the first fixture, the coach claimed to find similarites, “in the characteristics of their players, in their way of playing and in the offensive way in which they think the game”, as well as in predominant tactical system, the 4-3-3.
“I think it’s a team similar to ours in terms of its qualities. Eventually, we with more players with an individual imbalance capacity, through driving and dribbling, and they with a great capacity through the pass ”.
Of England the second fixture in the group Jorge said “is a vertical, fast team, with many talented players, with the ability to imbalance and hurt the opposing team, with many goals scored and good finishing ability ”.
He conceded the Swiss team were the least likely to be a threat, but warned his players that they would still be a difficult proposition calling them “perhaps the least spectacular in terms of the game. ”He continued to say “It falls in comparison to the others in terms of the number of passes he makes by possession of the ball, but it is a very safe and solid team, hard to overcome. It may be a less appealing style in terms of the game, but I believe that it will not fail to be a very difficult team to overcome.”
Portugal vs Croatia – Thursday 25th March Bonifika Stadium, Koper, Slovenia
Portugal vs England – Sunday 28th March Stadion Stožice, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Portugal vs Switzerland – Wednesday 31st March Stadion Stožice, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Predicted XI – 4-3-3
GK – Diogo Costa
RB – Thierry Correia
CB – Diogo Leite
CB – Diogo Queiros
LB – Tomás Tavares
CM – Florentino Luis
CM – Pedro Goncalves
CM – Gedson Fernandes
AT – Fabio Vieira
AT – Trincao
AT – Dany Mota