Portugal beat Macedonia but exit in group stage at U21 Euro

Portugal’s U21 squad gave it a good effort but a 4-2 victory against a stubborn Macedonian side in Gdynia, Poland on Friday night was not enough to remain in contention for a semi-final berth.

After the defeat to Spain earlier this week, Rui Jorge’s squad knew heading into their final group match that only a resounding victory by three or more goals, in addition to scoring four, was needed to overtake Slovakia as the best 2nd place finisher while awaiting results in Group C on Saturday.

In the end, Portugal fall in the group stage after just missing out on the title on penalties to Sweden in the final of this competition two years ago in the Czech Republic.

Perfect start

Rui Jorge signalled his intent to take the game to the Macedonians even before the opening whistle, going with a very attack-minded starting line-up. Without Ruben Semedo and Bruno Fernandes due to suspension, Jorge made a total of five changes from the squad that lost to Spain last time.

Portugal certainly got the start they needed. Just moments into the match, Edgar Ié was left all alone in the box and headed in a corner from a Iuri Medeiros cross to give Portugal the early lead.

However, it would become clear that their opponents were not going to roll over. The Macedonians responded well to the goal and almost caught Portuguese defenders on the break a few times in the opening minutes. But, the Portuguese kept up the pressure. In the 18th minute, Rebocho, making his first start of the tournament was replaced by Kevin Rodrigues.

Daniel Podence and Bruma were behind much of the Portuguese attacks in the early stages running at defenders. In the 22nd minute, Bruma received a pass from Rodrigues on the left, flat-footed a defender before delivering a brilliant right-footed strike past Damjan Shishkovski. It was his second goal in as many games and another contender for goal of the tournament.

Up 2-0 and not even a half-hour into the match, things looked good for the Portuguese. And they did not desist. Moments after scoring, Bruma found Podence in the box, but the diminutive Sporting winger could not find the net with his header.

With five minutes left before half-time, Macedonia’s Enis Bardhi found some room just outside the 18-yard box and put one past Bruno Varela. The goal did not mean much to the big picture. Portugal still needed two goals to move ahead of Slovakia.

Desperation time

The Macedonian goal seemed to take the wind out of Portugal. They seemed to lack the same intensity and cohesion in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Rui Jorge removed Renato Sanches and put in Ricardo Horta, making Ruben Neves the only true midfielder on the pitch for Portugal. Moments later, Iuri Medeiros found Podence in the box, who made it 3-1.

Portugal had just over a half-hour to score one more but things were about to take a turn. They struggled to create and Macedonia seemed to grow in confidence as the game went on. In the 80th minute came the heartbreak. With Portugal moving their players forward, Macedonia found their opportunity on the counter-attack. Kire Markoski scored to narrow the lead to one.

It was difficult to see Portugal scoring two at that point. And Rui Jorge’s reaction to the goal said it all. Bruma scored his second of the match in injury time raising Portugal’s hopes again.

However, just moments later Diogo Jota got tangled up with a Macedonian player and was given a questionable straight red card by Slovakian referee Ivan Kružliak which sealed their fate. Portugal’s efforts had just fallen short.

Rui Jorge responds

After the match, Portugal’s manager expressed his disappointment that they could not go further in this competition despite high expectations. “Obviously, we were not able to do enough to be among the top four teams. It does not feel like a victory,” Rui Jorge said.

“Scoring four goals in a tournament match is very difficult. We were able to do so but conceded one that we should not have and were punished for it. But, this team never gave up.”



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