A late Rui Pedro winner was enough to see Portugal through to the Semi-Finals of the 2017 European U19 Championship with a 1-2 win over The Czech Republic in Tbilisi yesterday.
The high-octane affair started in rather even circumstances, as a midfield battle was played out on the early stages of the group A tie. There was work to do for both Martin Jedlicka and Diogo Costa in the first half an hour of the feisty encounter. Mesaque Dju had been drafted into the Portugal starting eleven by Helio Sousa after impressing in a substitute appearance in the win over Georgia, and it wasn’t long before he was turning heads in this fixture. A dazzling piece of skill from winger Jose Felipe had played in Domingos Quina down the left side, the West Ham United starlet delivered a perfect low ball to tee up Dju for his first goal of the tournament. On the whole, the away side deserved their first-half lead, but it wasn’t to be long before the Czech’s bounced back.
The Czech Republic reacted quickly to going one down and were almost level a mere three minutes later, when Michal Sadilek had his effort well saved by Costa. However, just two minutes later the home side were level through Martin Graiciar. Libor Holik’s battling down the right side allowed him a free-cross into the area which whistled past a populated box and fell to Graiciar at the back post, the 18-year-old turned fantastically to unleash a superb volley into the bottom left corner of Jedlicka’s net. The quick fire Czech equaliser meant that the two teams at the top went into half-time with the game evenly poised at 1-1.
The stakes were high as the second period began with the knowledge that the winners of the game would guarantee themselves a Semi-Final spot. Portugal were to rise to the occasion with a quick start in the second-half and almost led early on when Quina worked some good space, but could only lash his effort high and wide. Jan Suchoparek’s men were struggling to get a foot hold in the game, as the Portugal dominance continued and it was to no surprise when they re-took the lead in the 74th minute.
Despite the fact that all of the games goals up until that point had come from players that hadn’t started Match Day One games, the game’s winning goal would come from the hero of the Georgia victory in Portugal’s Rui Pedro. Substitute Rafael Leao brought a ball down on the left and beat the defender with a magnificent turn, he then unleashed a stunning delivery into the box for the Porto man to nod home. The vital goal would turn out to be the game’s winner and the goal that sent Helio Sousa’s men into the semi’s. A series of Diogo Costa saves would ensure the victory for Portugal, as The Czech Republic are left needing to avoid defeat against Georgia to join them in the Semi-Finals.
The Czech’s will face the host nation in that pivotal tie on Saturday in Tbilisi, whereas Portugal will face the already eliminated Sweden in a chance to win group A with a 100% record on the same day in Gori.