France-Portugal is one of the great European fixtures, but the two sides have never actually met at a FIFA U-20 World Cup. The pair have fought out three semi-finals at senior level, and they are encounters that few could forget.
The sides met at the UEFA European Championships of 1984 and 2000, as well as the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, with Les Bleus emerging victorious on all three occasions. The European rivals have also contested two continental finals at youth level, with Portugal winning the UEFA European U-17 Championship in 1996 and France lifting the U-18 trophy in 1997.
Thursday’s semi-final showdown in Colombia already promises to be a spicy affair. Portugal’s U-20s have not picked the ball out of their net for 525 minutes, and Ilidio Vale’s men are creeping ever closer to Brazil’s record of 634 minutes without conceding. Meanwhile, French super sub Alexandre Lacazette has four goals in the competition so far, and Les Bleuets will once again be hoping he can make an impact.
France have already made history by reaching the semi-finals, but the reigning European champions will have no intention of bowing out at this late stage. After a shaky start to the tournament, Les Bleuets have grown in stature and recorded a convincing win over a very solid Nigerian side in the quarter-finals.
France have arguably the most organised team in the competition, and they have a real ace up their sleeve in the shape of Alexandre Lacazette. The forward has found the net four times to date and has made a telling contribution in every match so far. One real concern, however, is the condition of Gilles Sunu, who went off with an injury after half an hour against Nigeria.
Portugal’s victory over Argentina will have provided a timely confidence boost, despite the draining combination of extra time and soaring temperatures in Cartagena. A lack of goals has been the main problem for Vale’s men at Colombia 2011. They have only found the net three times, but their lack of potency up front has so far been offset by an incredible defensive record of no goals conceded.
It was 20 years ago in June that Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Co won Portugal’s last world title in the U-20 category. The current crop will no doubt be aware of this fact, and they will be hoping to honour the milestone date in the best possible fashion. Servette midfielder Sana will miss the game through suspension, and his absence limits the options available to coach Vale.
3 – Portugal have only scored three times since the start of Colombia 2011. Only two other teams have ever reached the FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finals with such a low goal tally: England in 1993 and, interestingly, Portugal in 1989. On that occasion, the Iberians went on to be crowned world champions.
Francis Smerecki, France coach: "We now know that we’re here for the full seven matches. We’ll definitely be fighting for a medal, and hopefully for the title. We know the Portuguese side well. We saw them play at the EURO last year, followed them at the Toulon Tournament and have been keeping a close eye on them here.”
Nuno Reis, Portugal defender: "We haven’t reached perfection yet, but we’ve achieved our initial target. Obviously when you get to the semi-finals you start focusing on nothing else but the title. It’s going to be tough but we can do it. We can be proud of ourselves, just as I am to be captain of this team."