The continental powerhouses lock horns at the Ramaz Shengelia Stadium after Lee Carsley’s charges swept aside the competition in Group C, while the Portuguese youngsters came out second best in Group A.
With a pair of comprehensive 2-0 wins over Israel and the Czech Republic ensuring England’s place in the knockout rounds as group winners, it came as no surprise to see Carsley make a plethora of changes for the final matchday, even if their opponents were a faltering Germany side.
The defending champions were fighting to salvage their Euros bacon following a duo of dissatisfactory results, but goals from Cameron Archer and Harvey Elliott within the first quarter of the game sealed a third successive 2-0 triumph for England, who sent Germany home with their tails tucked between their legs.
Now preparing to do battle in the knockout stages for just the second time in their last seven appearances – the Young Lions fell at the first hurdle in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2019 and 2021 – Carsley’s side have successfully rectified the mistakes of teams gone by, and few would bet against England going all the way on current form.
Furthermore, the Young Lions – European champions in 1982 and 1984 – have never been eliminated from the quarter-finals of the Under-21 Euros, most recently getting to the semi-finals in 2017 before paying homage to the senior team with a penalty-shootout exit to Germany.
Having avenged that heartbreaking loss, and as the only team to have gone through the entire group stage without conceding a goal, some England supporters could be forgiven for having one eye on a possible semi-final with Georgia or Israel, but navigating a Portugal-sized test will be easier said than done.
Preview: England U21s vs. Portugal U21s – prediction, team news, lineups
Two years on from butting heads in the Euros final, neither Germany nor Portugal covered themselves in glory this time around, with the latter largely struggling to assert their authority in the ‘Group of Death’ with Belgium, the Netherlands and co-hosts Georgia.
Suffering a humbling 2-0 loss to Georgia and drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands left Rui Jorge’s men on the brink of an unfathomable group-stage exit, and such a scenario almost came to fruition, as Joao Neves and Yorbe Vertessen’s strikes would seemingly force Portugal and Belgium to share the spoils on Tuesday.
However, with 89 minutes on the clock, Tiago Dantas buried a penalty after Henrique Araujo was felled in the area, sending Portugal through to the knockout rounds by the skin of their teeth with four points – good enough for second place behind surprise leaders Georgia.
Jorge will no doubt be aware that such form will not cut the mustard against the big boys in the knockout rounds, where Portugal are appearing for the fifth time in their history, but only once in 1996 have the Hopes been eliminated at this stage of proceedings.
Familiar foes in Under-21 Euros tournaments gone by, Portugal have won their last two meetings with England at this level – most recently a 2-0 triumph in the 2021 group phase – but the form book does not match up with the history book for the Iberian nation, and Sunday’s game will mark the first-ever showdown between the two sides in the knockout stages.
England Under-21s European Under-21 Championship form:
England Under-21s form (all competitions):
Portugal Under-21s European Under-21 Championship form:
Portugal Under-21s form (all competitions):
We say: England Under-21s 2-1 Portugal Under-21s
Portugal’s recent results against England make for positive reading for the Iberians, who will take any good omen that they can get following an underwhelming group-stage affair, which was in stark contrast to England’s near-flawless performance.
The Young Lions could also afford to encase several of their biggest names in bubble wrap this week, and while their unblemished defensive record might come to an end, Carsley’s side have the attacking wherewithal to dump the 2021 finalists out and set up a semi-final in which they will undoubtedly be the favourites to progress further.