TWO YEARS after the senior event, Uefa has awarded Portugal the ‘junior’ continental championships disputed by eight nations, divided into two groups of four. The venues, Porto, Braga, Guimarães, Aveiro, Barcelos and Aueda, are all located in the north of the country, the final taking place in the first named city’s Bessa stadium on June 4.
This is also the last tournament that will coincide with a World Cup year, as, in future, the competition will be held during ‘odd’ years, in order to allow many of the players called up for their country’s senior squads to compete at this level.
Hosts, Portugal, faced a difficult task in Group A, having been drawn against previous winners France, who eliminated England during the play-offs, Serbia & Montenegro, as well as Germany. The opening match against the French was promptly lost 1-0, setting up a ‘must win’ situation against Serbia & Montenegro, defeated 1-0 by Germany, on Thursday night. Unfortunately, Figo’s heirs looked tired once more, going down tamely 2-0 to their Balkan opponents. Germany fared even worse, showing little in terms of fighting spirit in their 3-0 defeat to France. Portugal did finally come good, emerging the 1-0 winners three minutes into injury time from the last group game against the Germans, but it was too little too late: the hosts had failed to take the first hurdle and were out. Germany, too, exited, despite Serbia & Montenegro’s 2-0 defeat by the French.
In Group B, five-time winners and defending champions Italy, came back from a 3-1 half-time deficit to draw 3-3 with Denmark, while debutantes Ukraine surprised the Dutch 2-1. Another late goal, this time in the third minute of injury time, gave Italy a 1-0 success over the Ukraine in the second game, while Denmark and Holland shared a 1-1 draw.