Aidy Boothroyd’s England side have a mountain to climb and their fate is now out of their hands if they’re to qualify for this summer’s U21 Euro knockout rounds, after succumbing to a second successive group stage defeat against a well-drilled Portugal side – courtesy of second-half goals from Dany Mota and substitute Francisco Trincao’s emphatic penalty off the bench.
Portugal 2-0 England: boothroyd’s boys taught another lesson
Mota 64′, Trincao (pen) 74′
Boothroyd’s attack-minded 4-3-3 formation promised plenty, but delivered little creative penetration as England were outfought and firmly second best against Group D leaders Portugal.
It leaves them needing to beat Croatia in their final group stage fixture on Wednesday evening, while needing to better Switzerland’s result against Portugal to stand any chance of progression.
Godfrey remains hopeful but England lack cutting edge
Croatia were 3-2 winners against the Swiss in one of the day’s earlier kick-offs, otherwise the Young Lions would already be mathematically out with a game to spare – just like two years ago.
Everton defender Ben Godfrey remained bullish about their chances of overcoming the odds midweek post-match, though it’s difficult to share any confidence after another drab display.
“We were up against a top side, it was always going to be a tough game but we’ve got to learn again, remain positive, still have a game to go and anything is possible. It’s important we stick together, fight until the end.
We recover, reflect, forget and go into that game [vs Croatia] wanting to win it, give 110% to do that. In spells in games, we know we can perform better – playing against top European sides, if you don’t do that you’ll get punished.”
Godfrey, who has made 20 Premier League starts with the Toffees since a £25m move from Norwich last October, produced an off-the-line clearance after just three minutes.
Mota was poised to open the scoring with a free header at the far post, though the centre-back reacted quickest to block on the line – ultimately an early sign of foreshadowing a long night.
England’s insistence on playing from the back gifted another chance, as Porto midfielder Fabio Vieira had one but Ramsdale gladly smothered after Tom Davies was wasteful in possession.
Injured Hudson-Odoi sorely missed
Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe, a non-factor on Thursday, had more influence as the left-sided central midfielder in a trio.
Valencia’s Thierry Correia made an important intervention to snuff out his dangerous low ball across the box, before the playmaker dovetailed well with U21 debutant Noni Madueke at times.
Even with those two and Ryan Sessegnon getting into dangerous positions, you couldn’t overstate the hole left by Callum Hudson-Odoi’s shoulder injury – meaning he didn’t feature.
“Maybe I’m a bit biased but I think they had a ready-made replacement on the bench in Eze, but they’ve not gone for him.” – Townsend on who should’ve replaced an injured Hudson-Odoi to start this game
Godfrey made a big headed interception to thwart goal-bound Mota again, this time after goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was forced into a smart save from distance, then again shortly afterwards as Portugal’s well-worked corner routine almost saw the deadlock broken.
Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend was on punditry duty for Sky Sports and made clear his displeasure not to see club teammate Eberechi Eze starting.
Right on cue as the second-half began, on he came in place of Smith-Rowe as the scores were delicately poised at 0-0 but really shouldn’t have been at this stage.
Vieira watched an effort fly inches over the crossbar, before Wolves loanee Vitinha came closer as Portugal were itching closer to the all-important opener they had deserved. Madueke did well to fashion a chance for himself, though the finishing product was lacking: scuffing wide of the mark.
portugal’s two impact subs prove pivotal
Vieira came off just after the hour mark for Chico Conceicao, who played a decisive role in their opener moments later.
Davies scanned his forward options and fed Norwich loanee Oliver Skipp, who ventured forward but was found suddenly overwhelmed by a swarm of players in red – Conceicao gladly stripped him of possession with a counter-attacking opportunity in the offing and executed perfectly.
Goncalves carried the ball 30 yards, played a delicately-weighted pass for Mota and the Monza forward stroked his shot into the bottom corner, in off the post and leaving Ramsdale stranded.
It was another self-inflicted issue for England, who failed to build from the back properly and had too many players high up the pitch to recover properly.
So while Eze’s introduction had caused Portugal players multiple problems with his ball-carrying abilities and eye for a pass in the final third, the Palace man’s risk-taking approach to create chances for others was rendered futile as they again failed to execute the basics convincingly.
Boothroyd opted for a double change as Madueke and Davies came off, though the damage was already done. It only got worse moments later.
Benfica teenager Goncalo Ramos, who replaced Mota with little over 15 minutes to play, also made an instant impact off the bench – winning a penalty as Marc Guehi was penalised for an innocous off-the-ball foul, standing on his ankle as the centre-back was too tight to his marker.
Trincao made no mistake with his penalty, sending Ramsdale the wrong way and hammering into the far corner to effectively put the game beyond doubt.
If there was a minute-long sequence that typified England’s struggles, it was Tottenham centre-back Japhet Tanganga as the clock neared full-time.
Looking visibly uncomfortable out of position at right-back, he looked in disbelief with the referee’s decision to award a Portugal foul from an England corner.
They weren’t likely to do much with the set-piece, but he argued their case anyway before forcefully picking up Ramos – who tried (and failed) to trick the referee into a second penalty.
Since bursting onto the scene during the 2019-20 campaign, Tanganga has been utilised sparingly by Jose Mourinho at club level this term and like Madueke, this was his U21 debut.
It was certainly a forgettable affair, though England’s struggles against top competition continue and that’s something unlikely to transform overnight with the current hierarchy still in charge.
All pictures via Getty — quotes via Sky Sports broadcast