The coaches of Serbia and Portugal are anticipating an even contest as they prepare to meet in the first UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-final in Alytus.
Neither side has ever lifted the U19 trophy, although this is Serbia's fourth semi-final – and third in five years – while Portugal are in the last four for the first time since 2003, when they eventually ended runners-up to Italy. Both have shown their quality so far in Lithuania, however, Serbia remaining unbeaten to win Group B ahead of France and Portugal bouncing back from an opening defeat to score four goals in their two most recent matches and claim second place in Group A.
Both coaches have a fair idea what to expect from the opposition. "From what I've heard, Portugal may be the strongest team in the competition," said Serbia's Ljubinko Drulović, who spent 11 years in Portugal as a player and won five successive league titles with FC Porto between 1995 and 1999. "I know the Portuguese mentality and the Portuguese players but we will respect our opponents, prepare well and try to do our best."
Emílio Peixe also recognised the threat posed by Serbia, pointing to the fact that Aleksandar Mitrović has already played for the senior team as proof of their quality. "We're very happy to be in the semi-finals," he explained. "
We've never been favourites in this tournament but the way we've played, the competitiveness we've showed, has got us to the semi-finals. We're happy to be here but we're going to face Serbia in the same humble way we've played every game."
Portugal's attacking prowess has been evident in their last two outings although it is the other end of the pitch which has taken more of Peixe's attention. "We are happy to have scored eight goals in the three group matches, it's a good sign for the semi-finals, but we've also let four in and we'll have to work on the defensive side of the team," he said. "We'll work hard to avoid making the same mistakes against Serbia, who are a very strong team, so we have to improve. We must play in a more secure and organised way to have a chance against them."
While Portugal have no selection concerns, Serbia are able to welcome back Andrija Luković after a one-match suspension, although Milan Vojvodić serves a ban. "We managed to rest some players and the mood in the team is really great," said Drulović, who made six changes for Friday's 1-1 draw against France. "Our first goal when we came here was to get to the semi-finals. For a small country like us to be in the last four with the big countries is a big success, but of course we're hoping for the final. We've never managed that, we've played in a few semi-finals but we hope we can make history."
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