England Men’s Under-21s suffered a major blow to their UEFA European Championship hopes after going down to their second consecutive Group D defeat against Portugal in Ljubljana.
Aidy Boothroyd’s team lost 1-0 to Switzerland in Thursday’s opener and were unable to get their first points on the board against a well-drilled Portuguese outfit.
Dany Mota’s fine strike and a Francisco Trincao penalty condemned the Young Lions to their second group stage defeat to now leave their chances of qualifying out of their own hands.
- Group D
- England MU21s vs Portugal MU21s
- Sunday 28 March 2021
Boothroyd made four changes to the team that lost to Switzerland in midweek as Japhet Tanganga, Noni Madueke and twins Ryan and Steven Sessegnon were all handed starts.
Portugal almost went ahead after just two minutes only for some last-ditch Ben Godfrey defending to prevent Mota’s goalbound header from crossing the line.
And England were close to going behind once again when Tom Davies gave away possession but Fabio Vieira’s shot was straight at a grateful Aaron Ramsdale.
Boothroyd’s men soon began to show signs of spark, however, with Arsenal ace Eddie Nketiah getting in behind and forcing a corner before Godfrey glanced a header wide.
The midfield axis of Oliver Skipp and Davies were central to everything Boothroyd’s players did in possession as England soon began to settle into the contest in the Slovenian capital.
And they almost created an opening when the electric Madueke, who plays his club football in Holland for PSV Eindhoven, surged down the right to keep Portugal on their toes.
But Rui Jorge’s men were posing England a continual threat and, once again, came close to breaking the deadlock with half an hour on the clock when Ramsdale was forced into a pair of fine saves.
Boothroyd threw on Crystal Palace star Eberechi Eze at half-time as England searched for an extra injection of creativity ahead of a crucial 45 minutes.
But they remained unable to create many clear-cut chances as Portugal continued to threaten on the break.
Mota was a menace all night and it was the former Juventus man who grabbed the breakthrough shortly after the hour mark.
He received a deftly-weighted pass from Pedro Goncalves before clinically curling home past Ramsdale into the far right-hand corner.
England continued to rally but, once again, found getting in behind the well-organised Portuguese defence difficult as the second half progressed.
And their opponents soon had their second, when Marc Guehi was punished for an innocuous-looking foul on substitute Goncalo Ramos and Trincao fired home from the spot.
The Barcelona man sent Ramsdale the wrong way as his emphatic effort into the top corner left England with a mountain to climb.
Boothroyd’s players fought to grab a goal back but it was Portugal who almost added a third when Ramos curled narrowly wide from the edge of the area.
And the Young Lions were unable to get back into the contest to leave them with a must-win game against the Croats on Wednesday.
England must beat their final Group D opponents, and rely on Portugal toppling Switzerland, to have any chance of progressing to the competition’s knockout stages at the end of May.
England (4-3-3): 1 Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United); 15 Japhet Tanganga (Tottenham Hotspur), 4 Ben Godfrey (Everton), 5 Marc Guehi (Swansea City, on loan from Chelsea), 14 Steven Sessegnon (Bristol City, on loan from Fulham); 6 Tom Davies (Everton), 16 Oliver Skipp (Norwich City, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), 18 Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal); 23 Noni Madueke (PSV Eindhoven), 9 Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal), 11 Ryan Sessegnon (Tottenham Hotspur)
Substitutes: 20 Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace) for Smith Rowe 46’, 21 Dwight McNeil (Burnley) for R Sessegnon 55’, 8 Conor Gallagher (West Bromwich Albion, on loan from Chelsea) for Madueke 72’, 17 Curtis Jones (Liverpool) for Davies 72’, 19 Rhian Brewster (Sheffield United) for S Sessegnon 83’
Substitutes not used: 2 Max Aarons (Norwich City), 3 Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), 7 Todd Cantwell (Norwich City), 12 Ben Wilmot (Watford), 13 Joe Bursik (Stoke City), 22 Josh Griffiths (Cheltenham Town, on loan from West Bromwich Albion)
Portugal (4-3-1-2): 1 Diogo Costa; 2 Thierry Correia, 4 Diogo Queiros ©, 3 Diogo Leite, 5 Diogo Dalot; 7 Vitor Ferreira, 6 Florentino, 23 Fabio Vieira; 8 Gedson Fernandes; 18 Pedro Goncalves, 11 Dany Mota
Substitutes: 10 Daniel Braganca for Florentino 46’, 17 Francisco Trincao for Fernandes 46’, 21 Sergio Conceicao for Vieira 63’, 9 Goncalo Ramos for Mota 73’, 16 Filipe Soares for Goncalves 88’
Substitutes not used: 12 Luis Maximiano, 13 Tomas Tavares, 14 Pedro Pereira, 15 Tiago Djalo, 19 Tomas Tomas, 20 Joao Mario, 22 Joao Virginia
Goals: Mota 64’, Trincao 74’ (pen)