Helio Sousa’s Portugal were left to rely on two late goals to salvage a point against the already eliminated Sweden and become champions of group A of the 2017 European U19 Championship in Gori yesterday.
The even affair started in an end to end fashion, with early chances falling to both sides. The best of which included attempts by Mesaque Dju of Portugal and joint tournament top-scorer Viktor Gyokeres of Sweden. As the first-half progressed, the Portuguese side captained by Bruno Paz began to create the best opportunities of the game so far, these included blocked efforts from Rafael Leao and Abdu Conte. However, a much-changed Portugal side wouldn’t be on the front foot for long, as The Swedes characteristically grew into the tie and took the lead for the first time in the tournament just before the break. A fantastic long ball from Swedish midfielder Max Svensson managed to pick out the 19-year-old Gyokeres inside the Portugal area, the big forward was able to turn and lash a stunning shot into the very top corner of the net. Claes Eriksson’s Sweden now had ending the tournament on a high and spoiling the Portuguese unbeaten record in their sights.
Unsurprisingly, Portugal had a second-half comeback in their sights and started the second period as the better side. However, Sousa’s men failed to create any clear-cut chances and were punished yet again by the boys in blue and yellow on the break. Sweden had just made their first substitute of the evening with Jesper Karlsson replacing the central-midfielder Svensson. Just moments after the introduction of the 18-year-old, he was one the scoresheet for the first time in the Finals after finishing past Leite Figueira from a tight angle. Ironically, Sweden had lost both their group A games 2-1 and in both of those games they came close to equalising after chasing late leads. However, the hunter would now become the hunted as Portugal staged a late comeback.
It all started just ten minutes after the Swedes doubled their lead, as the Portuguese threw themselves a lifeline and a chance of topping the group. A dazzling run down the right by-line from skipper Bruno Paz opened up the Sweden defence, before the Sporting CP man laid the ball back to Leao who finished calmly to get his team back within one. Portugal were now breathing down the necks of a shaky Swedish side with 20 minutes to play.
Sweden may have thought that they had crossed the line and emerged victors over the tournament favourites, but on 87 minutes their dreams were dashed. Pacey forward Madi Queta did well to skip away from Joseph Colley, but was then brought down by the Chelsea youngster inside the area with Ola Hobber Nilsen pointing to the spot. Substitute Joao Felipe buried the penalty in the corner and bagging a precious point for his Portugal side.
The draw means that Portugal end up as group A champions and will most probably avoid a tough Semi-Final tie with England. Instead the Portuguese starlets will face either Germany or The Netherlands in all probability and having rested a large portion of their first team for the 2-2 draw, they will have a fully fit squad for the tie that is due to take place on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Sweden have been eliminated from the 2017 European U19 Championship at the group stage and will be left pondering: what could have been?