DECLAN WARRINGTON / AIPS** in UHERSKE HRADISTE: Portugal made a winning start to their UEFA U21 Euro campaign with a victory over England which was more deserved than the 1-0 scoreline suggested.
Gareth Southgate’s team, among the tournament favourites and unbeaten against Portugal in their previous four meetings, were sluggish against organised opposition, particularly in the second half after Joao Mario had given the Portuguese the lead.
Their next Group B fixture, against Italy – who earlier lost 2-1 to Sweden – could already define the two teams’ tournaments given neither can lose if they are to reach the semi-finals. Portugal are already halfway there.
The evening’s first chance fell to Portugal striker Ivan Cavaleiro, whose first-time, seventh-minute shot from a right-wing cross forced goalkeeper Jack Butland into a reaction save at his near-left post.
England responded within minutes, when neat build-up play between Carl Jenkinson and Tom Carroll on the right created an opening for Nathan Redmond but the winger shot straight at Portugal’s Jose Na to routinely palm away.
Bernando Silva, with a cute run and low shot that Butland again saved, perhaps highlighted a vulnerability in England’s defence without the injured John Stones.
Beyond that, as half-chances came to Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane of England, and Portugal’s Joao Mario, neither goalkeeper was truly tested for the remainder of the opening 45 minutes.
Much was expected of Kane after 35 goals over the past season but with Portugal so convincing in defence, and an injury that has ruled England’s top scorer Saido Berahino out of the tournament, the Tottenham striker was often isolated.
Early in the second half it began to appear a solitary goal would be enough and so it ultimately proved. After James Ward-Prowse threatened with a free-kick which curled beyond the left post, Raphael Guerreiro wasted one chance at the other end and England failed to heed the warning.
In the 57th minute their defence again switched off to leave Bernardo Silva time and space to hit a post. Joao Maria was quickest to react and shoot into an unprotected net.
Not until the final 10 minutes did England again come close to the Portuguese goal, when substitute Danny Ings sent a 25-yard shot both high and wide.
Rui Jorge’s Portuguese team, and more specifically their defence, controlled play thereafter to earn a deserved win.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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