Portugal overcame a resilient Georgia to limp over the line with ten men in their opening game of the 2017 European U19 Championship in Gori.
The hosts put up a strong performance against the 2016 U17 Champions and were left wondering what could have been after lacking any real end-product to challenge Diogo Costa in the Portugal net. Despite Georgia’s relative dominance throughout the game, it was the visitors who made the faster start applying pressure but not managing to create any clear-cut chances in the early exchanges. However, momentum quickly changed hands as a Georgian cross found its way to Shakhtar Donetsk winger Gorgi Arabidze. His looping shot was well saved by Costa, who would turn out to have a superb game between the sticks. Moments later, the host nation had squandered another golden opportunity, this time through 17-year-old Giorgi Chakvetadze. Costa was again the hero as Chakvetadze was played in on the left, with his shot being prevented from reaching the far corner by the tall keeper.
As the game ebbed and flowed in various directions, Portugal were presented with their first half chance of the game when West Ham United winger Domingos Quina saw his run and shot fly over the bar. Georgia’s star attacker Giorgi Kokhreidze was injured after a heavy fall in a collision on the half hour mark, but soldiered on and failed to convert a long ball which he dragged wide. Moments later, the 18-year-old was forced off with the injury which appeared to be trauma to the hip and replaced by Giorgi Kochorashvili. The departure weakened the host’s attacking touch and Portugal looked to expose this when Joao Felipe fired just wide from range.
As half time approached, Georgia’s number 11 Gabrieli Sagrishvili, who was forced to play in the middle as opposed to on the wing when Kokhreidze departed, missed two glorious chances to put his side ahead. The first of which fell to the 19-year-old after the ball was nodded down to him, but he could only volley over from close range. The second opportunity that fell Sagrishvili’s way was more clear cut and saw him put in on the right side of the box. However, the youngster hesitated and by the time he shot, Portugal had got men back and a blocked effort would trickle through to Costa. As the referee blew for half-time, the home side had the significant upper hand, but the scores were still locked at 0-0.
The Georgians came out all guns blazing in the second half, as they set out to seize their opportunity of a shock win in the tie. They were awarded an early free-kick in a dangerous area, but nothing came of it until minutes later when Sagrishvili was gifted one of the chances of the game. However, the no. 11 was up to his old tricks and the chance went begging, with Costa making an easy save to his right. The hour mark was fast approaching and Hellio Sousa’s Portugal were beginning to grow back into the game when they tested Georgia keeper Giorgi Chochishvili with a well-placed free kick. The deadlock was finally broken in the 65th minute, as Rui Pedro was tripped after racing away from Georgia midfielder Giorgi Kutsia and referee Davide Massa pointed to the spot. Pedro converted the resultant penalty and the visitors led with 25 minutes of the second game of the 2017 European U19 Championship to go.
The thrilling conclusion of the tie would prove to be nervy for Sousa’s men. However, they could have made it easier for themselves when Pedro failed to turn in a stunning delivery from the visitor’s right flank. Instead, Portugal did it the hard way as Gedson Fernandes was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the 73rd minute. Georgia bolstered their attacking threat by introducing 19-year-old forward Temur Chogadze as they went in search of a much-deserved equaliser. Moments later, they were almost level when a dazzling free-kick from Arabidze was just tipped over the bar Diogo Costa. The last ten minutes saw a defensive Portugal “park the bus” in footballing terms and make life very hard for Georgia’s attackers. However, there would be one last chance for a dramatic leveller. A well worked short free-kick fell to Kutsia on the edge of the Portuguese box, presented with a chance to redeem himself, the 17-year-old could only blast over the bar and allow the referee to blow the full-time whistle.
It would be tears and heartbreak for Kutsia and his teammates as they left the field at The Tengez Stadioni, but for Portugal it would be a slightly fortunate win that saw them rise to 2nd place in group A. The hosts will now travel to face Sweden in a must win game, whereas Portugal will clash with group toppers the Czech Republic next. Both matches will take place in Tbilisi on Wednesday.