Preview: Portugal Under-19s vs. Italy Under-19s

Preview: Portugal Under-19s vs. Italy Under-19s

Having followed two very different routes to Sunday’s final, Portugal Under-19s and Italy Under-19s will battle it out to be crowned winners of the European Under-19 Championship 2023.

Ahead of their meeting at Malta’s Ta’Qali National Stadium, Portugal’s young guns have swept all before them, while the Azzurrini stumbled through to the semis and required a late winner to beat last-four opponents Spain.

After storming through the group phase by winning all three games, scoring nine goals and conceding just twice, Portugal were still able to step up a gear in Thursday’s semi-finals.

Following victories over Poland, Italy and Malta, Joaquim Milheiro’s side booked their nation’s ninth appearance in the final four at this age level, and they carried that momentum into a 5-0 thumping of Norway at Tony Bezzina Stadium.

Sporting striker Rodrigo Ribeiro scored twice as Portugal simply cruised past their Nordic opponents, and the Iberian nation now look forward to a sixth final this weekend.

Having also beaten all of their competitors in the elite round of qualifying – Sweden, Czechia and Croatia – Milheiro and co are aiming to emulate a 2018 team featuring forwards Francisco Trincao and Jota by adding to Portugal’s sole success at the Under-19 Euros.

They will surely start favourites in Sunday’s final, as their rivals for the title were brutally crushed earlier in the tournament, when the teams’ Group A clash ended in a 5-1 win for the Portuguese, who had five different names on the scoresheet.

That result marked a turning point for the Italians, though, as they then recovered their composure to draw 1-1 with Poland and scrape through to the semi-finals, before edging out Spain on Thursday evening.

Following a goalless first half, the contest exploded into life after the break, when the Azzurrini took the lead through Samuele Vignato’s 52nd-minute opener. However, La Rojita soon equalised, and did so again after Nicolo Pisilli restored Italy’s advantage.

The Italians went in front once again, thanks to a late Luca Lipani header, and the substitute’s strike secured a second youth tournament final of the summer for a nation which recently suffered defeat to Uruguay in the Under-20 World Cup decider.

Afterwards, coach Alberto Bollini spoke of his pride at upsetting a Spanish side he labelled “the best in the world” at Under-19 level, and he now leads Italy into a fifth European final in that age category.

While the Azzurrini’s last triumph in the tournament came some 20 years ago, Portugal were beaten finalists on that occasion; something Bollini may reflect on in the build-up, rather than dwelling on his team’s group-stage capitulation.

Portugal Under-19s European Under-19s Championship form:

Italy Under-19s European Under-19s Championship form:

Italy Under-19s form (all competitions):

We say: Portugal Under-19s 2-1 Italy Under-19s
Totally irresistible so far this summer – and for several months beforehand – Portugal can continue their imperious form and wrap up a merited Under-19 Euros crown in Malta. Throughout the tournament, Italy have been caught out defensively, so they will be beaten again by their group-stage tormentors.

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