A calm but slick Portugal side overcame The Netherlands 1-0 to gain a spot in the final of the 2017 European U19 Championship in Tbilisi yesterday.
There would never be a dull moment in the thrilling encounter in which both sides could have progressed to the last two. However, it was the Dutch who made the faster start in the affair, with Javairo Dilrosun running the show at times for the boys in blue. The Manchester City man was presented with the best opportunity of the opening exchanges, when he skipped away from defenders to get clear only to see his poor effort easily saved by Diogo Costa in the Portuguese net.
More chances followed for the visitors, but this time they were created by Che Nunnely on the opposite flank with the Ajax man failing to find the right end product from two promising positions early on. The Dutch were still without their main attacking option Joel Piroe who scored a hat-trick in the thrashing of Germany, but had to settle for a place on the bench after a bad knock to head against Keith Downing’s England on Match Day Two.
As the first-half ebbed on, Portugal were gradually playing themselves into the game and it would be long before they started to come close to scoring themselves. A fantastic run from West Ham United youngster Domingos Quina allowed him a promising shooting opportunity on the edge of the area, but the 17-year-old could only fire just wide of Justin Bijlow’s right hand post. Quina was to come within a sight of finding the opener again, as his shot from at least 35 yards bounced just before Bijlow and the ball was well picked up by the Dutch skipper. Even with the Portuguese in the ascendancy, The Netherlands still posed a serious threat on the break as Dani De Wit came close for Maarten Stekelenburg’s men.
The breakthrough would finally come on 24 minutes and it was Portugal who found it through Gedson Fernandes. Quina was again heavily involved for Helio Sousa’s men, as his magnificent switch ball found Fernandes who cut in and unleased a fiery effort on his right foot that was spilt into the net by Bijlow. The goal would prove decisive, as the first-half whittled out with the Portuguese slowing down the pace. However, there would still be time for one last chance in the period, as Nunnely was played in through on goal but Diogo Costa got down well to deny Holland an equaliser on the stroke of half-time. As the players went in for the break, Portugal had a slender advantage in an even encounter.
The second-half began in the Georgian capital as temperatures soared to around 100 degrees and frequent water breaks disturbed the Dutch rhythm as they went in search of a leveller. However, Joao Filipe would squander the best chance of the early second period action, as his run and shot was kept out by the Holland captain. The Dutch were left to rue their early missed chances, as they failed to create much in the way of clear-cut opportunities with their tournament fading away.
Holland’s false nine system was failing them as they chased the game and the introduction of forward Jay-Roy Grot was little too late for Stekelenburg’s men. The best Dutch chance of the second-half would fall in the way of midfielder Teun Koopmeiners, as his long-range effort curled just over Costa’s bar. As a stern Portuguese defence held off a messy Dutch attack, it became clear that it wasn’t to be the boys in blue’s day and they were subsequently heading out of the competition. Danish referee Mads-Kristoffer Kristoffersen finally blew the full-time whistle in the 96th minute, much to the delight of the vocal Portugal fans inside The David Petriashvili Stadium and the despair of the young Dutch starlets.
While Maarten Stekelenburg and his youngsters board the plane home, Portugal will be hoping for a repeat of their 2016 European U17 Championship triumph when they line up for the Final on Saturday afternoon in Gori.