Europe’s best meet again for a final showdown
With a host of intriguing encounters in the upcoming quarter-final round, one can point to the all-Iberian match-up between Spain and Portugal in Tampere on 24 August as one of the most mouth-watering of the four. Aside from being a battle for bragging rights on the peninsula, the final-eight encounter is a re-match of the tense final of 2003 UEFA U-17 European Championship.
The tight 2-1 result swung the host Portugal’s way that day back in late July. Two goals from the sensational Marcio Sousa saw David’s equaliser wiped away in an open and exciting affair. Surprisingly the win was Portugal’s first-ever U-17 European Championship crown.
But Spain coach Juan Santisteban is not expecting a re-run of the final when the two teams meet this time around in Lahti.
“This is football and every game is different.” The ex-Real Madrid star told journalists after taking Group D with a simple win over the United States, and learning of the all-Iberian encounter. “Just because they (Portugal) beat us that time does not mean they will beat us again - all games are different.”
Neither side will be coming into the European showdown with a stellar defensive record. Portugal, after seeing their 5-0 lead over Cameroon disappear in twenty minutes in their last group match, have been leaking goals at an astonishing rate – unlucky 13 in the three matches.
Spain for their part, have not exactly been the defensive bastion of the tournament, but their five goals conceded looks water-tight by comparison to their Lusitanian neighbours.
Spain will be without three-goal hero Silva, whose hat-trick against Korea was just the spark the struggling side needed. The confident Santisteban though, is not worried.
Yes, losing Silva is a blow to the team,” he admitted after some hesitation. “But we have many players on the bench who can do the job just as well.”
When asked how far his side could go in the competition, Santisteban took a deep breath, leaned back and looked to the heavens.
“Anything is possible,” the boss said. “If we play the way we know how to play, and the way we occasionally played in the first round, then we can go all the way…If we don’t, well then it could be a different story entirely.”With Spain coming off a dominant performance against the States, Portugal will not be feeling the soothing calm of cool confidence after seeing a 5-0 lead slip away in just over 20 minutes of the second half to courageous Cameroon in their unforgettable final match.
One positive point for the Portuguese would have to be the play of wispy Vieira de Freitas. His wonder chip to open Portugal’s account against the Africans is one that will go down in U-17 history and football lore.
In the 15th minute, the youngster raced up field with the ball at his feet. Looking up, some 60 yards from goal, he unleashed a delicate strike over the stranded Luc Kalapach – running desperately at top speed to get back in time. As the ball and the keeper tumbled into the net simultaneously, Vieira’s team-mates mobbed him in a combination of disbelief, admiration and uncontrollable joy.
I have never scored a goal like that before,” said the skinny Benfica winger. “I’ve tried it before, but never pulled it off.”
For the upcoming quarter-final, Portugal coach Antonio Violante is expecting a hard match against a determined rival. “The match will be a very difficult test for us,” he said. “And Spain will definitely be looking for revenge for the loss in the UEFA final.”
Staying at their familiar home base of Tampere, Portugal may just have the upper hand over their Iberian cousins come kick-off time.