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Portugal crash out of the U20 World Cup after draw with South Africa

Portugal crash out of the U20 World Cup after draw with South Africa

In a tournament filled with hope and expectation, Portugal collapse at the first hurdle to fall disastrously short of their pre-tournament expectations, heading home before knockout football has even begun.

Off the back of lifting both the U17 and U19 Euros, the optimism surrounding this "Golden Generation" was wholly justified, these players having already proven just how good they are.

Indeed, on a day where nothing short of a victory over South Africa would realistically suffice, there was a sense of arrogance and overconfidence from fans and pundits alike, the early suggestions being that Portugal could triumph with ease over South Africa, potentially even by a 6-0 scoreline that would see them challenge Argentina for top spot in the group.

That optimism was further cemented when Rafael Leão put Portugal ahead after just 19 minutes, a well taken goal that ultimately showed some of the creativity and individual flair in Portugal's ranks.

And Portugal ultimately dominated the ball and the chances from then on, having the required opportunities to put the game to bed.

However, while they could have killed the game, they went into half time with the score still 1-0, which is always a dangerous position to be in.

And problems suddenly arose in the second half when South Africa, out of nowhere, were correctly awarded a penalty upon a VAR review in the 53rd minute. That was calmly dispatched by Monyane, and suddenly, Portugal were heading out.

With plenty of time left on the clock though, there was no reason for Portugal to panic, and indeed they were awarded a penalty of their own just a matter of minutes later, when South Africa were penalised for a penalty of their own after yet another VAR review.

However, João Filipe, who was the hero in the U19 Euros only last year, saw his shot saved by Kubheka, and there was immediately that feeling that maybe, just maybe, this wouldn't be Portugal's day after all...

Portugal continued to flow forwards, in desperate search for that much needed second goal, and when Diogo Queiros struck the crossbar after a headed effort with just 15 minutes remaining, things started to look bleak for Portugal.

As the clock ran down, South Africa's players fell to the floor feigning injury at every given opportunity - and who could blame them? This was an outstanding result for the heavy underdogs, and Portugal could really only blame themselves for the predicament they found themselves in.

In the six minutes added on, Portugal had a few half chances, but nothing to write home about, and ultimately it came to a corner in the final minute, Portugal throwing everyone - including the goalkeeper - into the box, but the dismal corner that hardly made it off the ground summed up the day for Portugal.

Cue the final whistle, met with evident disappointment - or more accurately disbelief - by the players on the pitch, matches by all those Seleção fans watching back home.

Portugal, champions of Europe - back to back at two separate age categories - inexplicably falling at the group stage. It seems harsh to label this an astounding failure, what with the phenomenal achievements of this group of players already seen, but ultimately there's no hiding from the fact that Portugal have fallen short of pre-tournament expectations.

One thing's for sure though; this is a side stacked with incredible individual talent, and they can still, with full justification, be referred to as Portugal's latest Golden Generation. You don't win two European Championships by way of luck alone, and certainly their quality was on show in both of those continental competitions.

For some reason though, the goals dried up this time around. Just the two in three games against less than frightening opposition is a stunningly disappointing return, particularly when you consider the fact that Portugal bagged 4 goals in the final of the U19 Euros alone last season when they faced Italy in a thrilling 4-3 victory.

That is something which is concerning, although ultimately it isn't through a lack of effort, or a lack of talent. With João Filipe, Francisco Trincão and Rafael Leão leading the line for Portugal, there was sufficient quality to blow away opposition, but with something of a lack of creativity in midfield, it simply wasn't to be.

There's no need to panic or overreact to this though. Disappointing though it may be, this group of players still have an abundance of talent, and the vast majority are still going to go on to have spectacular careers and lead the senior Portugal national team in the years to come. 

This is a setback, but the future remains bright for the Seleção.

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