Portugal vs Spain: The final of the UEFA European U19 Championship
Portugal take on Spain today as they look to defend the crown they won last year.
It is a different generation of players compared to the team that won the Euro U19 tournament one year ago - but it could still come to the same result.
That team that won the U19 Euros in 2018 was always very highly regarded; boasting talent such as Joao Filipe, Francisco Trincao, Ruben Vinagre and Florentino Luis, Portugal went into the tournament as one of the favourites, and came out on top in an epic 4-3 victory over Italy in the final.
This time around though, with fresh faces and a new manager, they are looking to replicate the achievements of Helio Sousa’s men from 2018, and have managed to cruise to the final in a similar fashion to the class that came before them.
History repeating itself?
Indeed, the parallels between the two years are quite clear to see. In 2018, Portugal won their first and third game of the group stage but failed to secure victory in their second outing, something which has only been replicated in this campaign.
That second group stage match in 2018, which Portugal ultimately lost 3-2, was against Italy - who Portugal then went on to face - and beat - in the final of the tournament. Then, in 2019, that second group stage game was against Spain - who Portugal are also now going to face in the final. Should history repeat itself, Portugal may well be on their way to defending the title they won last year.
That’s not quite where the similarities end either, as, in 2018, Portugal won their semi-final match versus Ukraine with ease, earning a 5-0 victory over their opponents. There was a similar story this time around too, as Portugal defeated Ireland 4-0 in the semi-final to reach the last two of the competition.
The omens for Portugal, therefore, are very good indeed.
How Portugal got here
Portugal were handed a tricky group with Italy, Spain and hosts Armenia. Compare that to the other group, which consisted of France, Ireland, Norway and Czech Republic, and you can see why many were concerned that Portugal could struggle to defend their title.
Nevertheless, Portugal impressed right from the off, securing a 3-0 victory against Italy in the first outing, before drawing 1-1 with Spain. With what was, at least on paper, only the easiest match of the group stage remaining, Portugal were in pole position to qualify for the semi-final - and they did so with relative ease, finishing with a 4-0 win over Armenia.
That result put them top of the group, finishing on 7 points and above Spain by virtue of goal difference. It meant that Portugal avoided France in the semi-final, and instead they faced Ireland.
Ireland proved tricky customers, and the 4-0 win that Portugal secured flatters them a little bit, with Portugal having to clear the ball of the line in the first half, before Ireland hit the crossbar. Nevertheless, Portugal were largely in control, and their clinical touch was clearly on show.
That win set up the rematch between Portugal and Spain. With nothing to separate them in the group stage, a tight affair is anticipated.
Portuguese players to watch out for
There is some great talent in this Portugal side, but a couple have so far stood out this tournament above the rest.
The first has to be Goncalo Ramos. The Benfica forward has been sensational this tournament, in particular in the semi-final against Republic of Ireland.
The 18-year old is currently the top scorer in the competition, with 4 goals across 4 games. Three of those goals, though, came against Ireland as he secured an impressive hat-trick to launch Portugal into the final. His first was a simple header at the back post after some great trickery down the wing for Joao Mario, his second a rifled first-time shot high into the back of the net, and his third, which came in stoppage time, a great showing of fancy footwork before he found the back of the net from close range.
Joao Mario is another to keep a very close eye on, his fancy footwork on the wing the source of great entertainment for the Portugal faithful, and he has been integral in Portugal’s efforts throughout this tournament. He has garnered a handful of assists this campaign already as a result, while his excellent goal against Armenia in the group stage, where he showed an excellent first touch to bring the ball down away from the defender before curling a beautiful effort into the back net, was impeccable and showed the great talent he possesses. The 19-year old has been Portugal’s best player so far this tournament, and he’s certainly one to watch.
Felix Correia is also a very talented player, the 18-year old showing his skill and confidence on the ball this tournament, as well as his pace, finishing and passing ability. The Portugal front three, who have shown to have a very good understanding and are able to rotate across the front-line, have been a joy to watch, and are the trio to keep an eye on.