Thursday 18th June – 19:45 – Stadion Miroslava Valenty
It’s not usual that England go into a tournament as one of the favourites, but the England Under 21s begin their European Championship campaign against Portugal tomorrow with high hopes of lifting the trophy on June 30th. Gareth Southgate’s side have won their last three games, including a victory against Germany, which really showed their intent of success in the Czech Republic. Portugal have not won any of their last three games, but with scouts around the continent monitoring many of their squad, they are still third favourites to win the entire competition after winning all ten games in qualifying. In a very tough Group B, no team can really afford to lose a game if they want to top the table and avoid the Germans in the semi-finals, meaning this game does have a very high importance, as well as the fact that everyone wants to kick-off with a win. England had a disastrous Euro 2013, whilst this is Portugal’s first championships since 2007, so both sides have a point to prove. You can watch how it pans out on BT Sport 1 from 7:15pm on Thursday, with kick-off an hour later.
England Team News
- Gareth Southgate has confirmed that defender John Stones is unavailible after missing Wednesday’s training session with a head injury.
- Southgate likes to play a 4-3-3 formation, meaning there is room for only one out of Danny Ings, Harry Kane and Saido Berahino in the starting line-up.
- It is likely to be Kane, with Nathan Redmond and Alex Pritchard on either wing as the Young Lions look to attack from the start.
The Key Battle: James Ward-Prowse vs Ruben Neves
One of many in a long line of big talents produced by Southampton’s academy James Ward-Prowse is not only setting his sights on winning this tournament, but receiving a senior call-up afterwards as well.
Roy Hodgson is reportedly considering the 20 year old as part of his plans, but has left him to the Under 21s knowing how a great a prospect. Understandably so, as Ward-Prowse has three goals in 12 games for the Under 21s, including the winner against Germany back in March.
He played a big part in Southampton’s seventh place finish last season, and will get the chance to show his talents to the continent again next season, with Ronald Koeman’s side set to compete in the Europa League.
One player who already has the whole of Europe watching his progress is Porto’s Ruben Neves, who has a £29 million release clause with Liverpool said to be interested.
It’s a meteoric rise which has come as a bit of a surprise to many in Portugal, as the 18 year old was only drafted into Porto’s squad at the start of 2014-15. But he went on to make 37 appearances throughout the campaign, and in the process becoming the youngest Primeira Liga scorer and Champions League appearance maker in the club’s history.
Neves has been compared to Sergio Busquets and compatriot Joao Moutinho, as he is primarily a defensive midfielder, but is not afraid to start and create attacks with his superb vision and passing range. For Portugal’s Under 21s he has one goal in six caps.
The Last Meeting: England 3-1 Portugal (13th November 2014)
Burnley striker Danny Ings netted twice to make a dream homecoming with the Young Lions on his home turf to help fire Gareth Southgate’s side to a 3-1 victory in a friendly against Portugal. After the Clarets man opened the scoring on six minutes, Will Hughes had a goal disallowed for offside before a rare Carl Jenkinson strike, albeit a tap-in gave the Young Lions a 2-0 half-time lead. But Portugal came out in the second half all guns blazing, Bernardo Silva reducing the deficit, but there was to be no comeback as Ings completed his brace and gave England the victory just after the hour mark.
The Portugal Lowdown
- Manager: Rui Jorge
- Captain: Rui Fonte
- Best Euro Performance: Runners-Up (1994)
Star Man – William Carvalho
Perhaps the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere should have followed the example of William Carvalho, who despite being an established figure in the senior side, made himself available for this tournament, so he is key to Portugal’s hopes. The 23 year old featured in the World Cup last summer and has 13 senior caps, and that experience will be crucial in the Czech Republic, as Carvalho looks to boost his reputation even more by lifting the trophy. He is already on the radar of Manchester United and Arsenal amongst others, with his commanding performances in midfield for Sporting Lisbon catching the eye. Reports that Arsene Wenger is preparing a bid in excess of £20 million tells you just how good Carvalho is. He has the potential to be one of the stars of this tournament.
The experience in the side is key, as eight of the 23 man squad has been capped at senior international level – the third most at the tournament. This includes the above mentioned William Carvalho, who starred at last summer’s World Cup, and, along with Bernardo Silva, joined up with the squad late as both players were part of the senior team’s game against Armenia on Saturday. With the consensus in Portugal being that the senior team is past it’s best, many of the Under 21s are playing for a call-up, meaning they’ll be wanting to impress.
There’s no out and out and striker in the Portugal squad, and the country’s search for a complete number nine seems to have gone on and on. Even right-back Ricardo Pereira had a stint in attack during qualifying. Goals could be an issue, and manager Rui Jorge generally plays a striker-less 4-4-2 diamond system which is slightly worrying. Jorge himself is is an inexperienced boss whose managerial footprint remains rather shallow. His only previous head coach role was a short stint in charge of already relegated Belenenses, so it’s hard to tell how a good a tactician he really is.
My Prediction: England 2-1 Portugal
Both sides may start off cagey with nervousness a factor. However it should be England who get into their rhythm first, with Harry Kane giving them the lead. Carlos Mane will then equalise for Portugal, but the Young Lions should snatch victory with a goal from Nathan Redmond.