Spain vs Portugal: U21 semi-final preview
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Holders Spain aim to reach a third consecutive final but are up against a Portugal side used to these occasions.
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Holders Spain face Portugal in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals in Maribor on Thursday 3 June at 18:00 CET.
For tickets click here; there will also be a ticket office at the stadium.
Both these teams came through extra time after conceding equalisers at the end of 90 minutes in Monday's quarter-finals – Spain edging Croatia 2-1 and Portugal knocking out Italy 5-3. Croatia's equaliser was the first goal Spain had conceded in nine games since a 1-1 qualifying draw in Israel in November 2019 and they could reach a third straight final as they continue their bid to make it four titles in six editions over the last decade.
Portugal, though. have an eye for goal and plenty of players familiar with the latter stages of these competitions: more than half of their 23 have been in squads that reached the final of a U17 or U19 EURO. Nine of them were in the squad that beat Abel Ruiz, Brahim Díaz and Iñaki Peña's Spain in the 2016 U17 final, though the 2019 U19 decider went the other way, with Juan Miranda, Antonio Blanco, Abel Ruiz, Bryan Gil and Hugo Guillamón (suspended on Thursday) in the starting line-up that defeated Fábio Vieira, Vitinha, Gonçalo Ramos and Tomás Tavares's Portugal.
Where to watch the semi-final
Fans can find their local U21 broadcast partner(s) and details of UEFA.tv coverage here.
Route to the semi-final
Qualifying: Group 6 winners, W9 D1 L0 F20 A1
Group B winners: Slovenia W3-0 (Maribor), Italy D0-0 (Maribor), Czech Republic W2-0 (Celje)
Quarter-final: Croatia W2-1aet (Maribor)
Goalscorers: Javi Puado (3), Dani Gómez* (2), Juan Miranda (1), Gonzalo Villar (1)
Qualifying: Group 7 runners-up, W9 D0 L1 F29 A9
Group D winners: Croatia W1-0 (Koper-Capodistria), England W2-0 (Ljubljana), Switzerland W3-0 (Ljubljana)
Quarter-final: Italy 5-3aet (Ljubljana)
Goalscorers: Dany Mota (3), Francisco Conceição (2), Francisco Trincão* (2), Fábio Vieira (1), Jota (1), Diogo Queirós (1), Gonçalo Ramos (1)
*Not included in knockout stage squad
Spain: Fernández; Miranda, Mingueza, Jorge Cuenca, Pedrosa; Fran Beltrán, Zubimendi, Cucurella; Puado, Brahim Díaz, Bryan Gil
Portugal: Diogo Costa; Diogo Dalot, Diogo Leite, Diogo Queirós, Tomás Tavares; Daniel Bragança, Florentino; Gonçalo Ramos, Vitinha, Fábio Vieira; Dany Mota
Meet the teams
Spain: It remains to be seen how big of a toll extra time against Croatia took on Spain's match fitness, but Luis de la Fuente's men looked very comfortable with the ball against defence-oriented opposition. Playing against their Iberian neighbours should give them much more space to exploit and we should see even more flurries down the wing, where Bryan Gil in particular is shining. La Rojita will need to find the right balance between attack and defence, however. Croatia's counterattacks exposed vulnerabilities at the back and Portugal appear to be in great scoring form.
Portugal: "I'm tired," was Portugal captain Diogo Queirós' initial reaction after his team's quarter-final ding-dong win against Italy, and recovery will be the squad's main focus following that sapping 5-3 triumph after extra time in Ljubljana. Rui Jorge's side conceded their first goals of the final tournament in that game, and having started with a diamond midfield, Jorge switched to a 4-2-3-1 that offered greater solidity. He could be tempted to begin with that set-up in Maribor against a Spain side that can rival his own for dominating possession.
View from the camps
Luis de la Fuente, Spain coach: "Being in the knockout stage was a success, and being in the semi-finals is a huge success. Every game is very tough. We knew [the quarter-final] would be very tight, but we had some good passages of play. It's good for us to win in this way. In the dressing room, there was euphoria, a real spirit. It makes us appreciate what it takes to win."
Javier Puado, Spain forward: "We know that they have a very good team with very good qualities. Going from there, we’ll prepare by watching videos and by studying our opponents. It’s true, we also rely on ourselves and I think we’re a good team, so we should make it to the final. But of course, we’re up against opponents` that will make things hard for us."
Rui Jorge, Portugal coach: "I had said Italy would be extremely aggressive and that it's difficult to play against them. We conceded a late goal, which is a little annoying, but we ended up reacting. We didn't use our lead well. When teams start to look for more, we get more space up front and we could have done better. Spain also had extra time. Regardless, I think it will not be a crucial factor."
Diogo Queirós, Portugal captain: "I think that Spain is a country where all the national teams have a very specific identity: a lot of possession, very calm and composed in their play. And I think that is what they’ll try to do. They’ll try to control the match, keeping possession of the ball, but we’ll try to counter that and impose our identity. We’ll try to control the match so that, in the end, we can win."
Dany Mota, Portugal forward: "If we can get past Spain then we can start thinking about winning the title. You have to take it one game at a time if you want to reach a final, and we’ll be giving it our all against Spain."