Portugal haven’t been apart of the Under-21 European Championship since 2007 when the team ended in sixth when the tournament took place in the Netherlands. This time around they will hope to make a mark in the tournament, but it will be tough as they have some elite competition in Group B.
The Czech Republic is hosting its second large sporting event this year, as they will be the site for the Under-21 European Championship that starts on June 17. The Czech Republic hosted the IIHF Hockey World Championship in May. Although it’s a under-21 tournament, as long as the players are born in or after 1992 they are eligible, making the maximum age 23. That’s because the qualifications for the tournament started in 2013.
Portugal dominated Group 8 in the qualifying tournament, winning all eight games and winning the group on 24 points, nine points ahead of second-placed Israel. The Portuguese outscored their opponents 22-6 for a +16 goal difference. In the qualification playoffs, Portugal went up against the Netherlands. Portugal went through 7-4 on aggregate after a 2-0 win in Holland and a wild 5-4 win at home.
Former Portugal international Rui Jorge, who played in the 2002 World Cup and the 2000 and 2004 Euros, is the head coach and he has a couple of interesting players at his disposal for the tournament. Two of his players, William Carvalho (Sporting) and Bernando Silva (Monaco) was with the Portuguese senior national team as they beat Armenia 3-2 in the 2016 European Championship qualifiers on Saturday. Carvalho came off the bench in the 63rd minute. Both of them will likely feature in midfield for the U-21 side.
In net it will be Jose Sa. The 21-year-old goalkeeper from Maritimo in the Portuguese top division is the number one choice and he will have to play well as the level of competition is going to be much higher now compared to the qualifications.
On defense, they have their ironman in Paulo Oliveira. The 23-year-old defender from Sporting Lisbon played every single minute in the qualification rounds and he will be an integral part of the Portuguese defense as he has a lot of experience. He featured in 34 games for Sporting in the Portuguese league and in the Champions League.
Up front they have several options to choose from. Ricardo, 19, was their top scorer in the qualifications with five goals in 10 appearances. The Estoril forward featured in three Europa League games this past season. Carlos Mane (Sporting Lisbon) scored seven goals this season and got to play in the Champions league. Both these forwards are on the smaller side, so look for Portugal to play the ball along the ground and not attempt too many crosses.
Portugal has a very tough schedule in Group B as they start off by going up against England and then play Italy in the second game. Sweden, who is the weakest side in the group on paper, knocked out France in the qualification playoffs, so they can’t count that as an easy game either.
June 18: England – Portugal
June 21: Italy – Portugal
June 24: Portugal – Sweden
Goalkeepers: Bruno Varela (Benfica), Daniel Fernandes (VFL Osnabruck), José Sá (Marítimo)
Defenders: Frederico Venâncio (Vitória Setúbal), João Cancelo (Valencia), Paulo Oliveira (Sporting), Raphael Guerreiro (Lorient), Ricardo Esgaio (Académica), Tiago Ilori (Bordeaux), Tobias Figueiredo (Sporting)
Midfielders: Tozé (Estoril), Bernardo Silva (Monaco), João Mário (Sporting), Rafa (Braga), Rúben Neves (FC Porto), Sérgio Oliveira (Paços de Ferreira), William Carvalho (Sporting)
Forwards: Carlos Mané (Sporting), Gonçalo Paciência (FC Porto), Iuri Medeiros (Arouca), Ivan Cavaleiro (La Coruna), Ricardo Pereira (FC Porto), Ricardo Horta (Malaga)