On the 24th of May, the FIFA U20 World Cup will kick off in Lublin, Poland. Portugal U20 will be there hoping to battle it out and ultimately take home the prize, a title the Portugal U20 sides have won twice before (1989, 1991). The 1991 squad featuring stars such as Luís Figo, Rúi Costa and Jorge Costa. Fast forward to 2019 and Portugal are on the brink of another Golden Generation. Próxima Jornada takes a closer look at this side ahead ahead of the World Cup.
This Portugal U20 are being tipped to be the next Golden Generation, but that pressure does not seem to be getting to them. As this bulk of players have moved through the numerous age categories, they have shown themselves to be winners, time and time again.
Pedigree and Form
In 2016, many of the now U20 crop who are competing in this summer’s U20 World Cup, won the UEFA European U17 championships in Azerbaijan, beating Spain on penalties in the final. In UEFA’s 18-man team of the tournament, 9 of those players were Portuguese, 7 out of 9 of these players have made this U20 squad (Diogo Costa, Diogo Dalot, Diogo Leite, Rúben Vinagre, Gedson, Florentino, Jota).
In 2018, Portugal were again crowned champions however now at U19 level. They won the UEFA U19 European Championships in Finland, defeating Italy 4-3 AET in the final. The golden boot for top scorer was shared by Jota and Trincão, who both scored 5. UEFA’s team of the tournament, this time included 7 Portugal players. 6 of those players are in this U20 squad for the World Cup (Romain Correia, Rúben Vinagre, Florentino Luís, Jota, Thierry Correia and Trincão). So, it is clear that this crop of players are one the favourites for this tournament for a reason, they have shown on numerous occasions that they can go to major competitions and bring silverware back to Portugal, this U20 World Cup is just the latest in a series of tests for this bright generation.
Let’s take a closer look at the squad
The most obvious thing to note when looking at this squad is the sheer amount of experience within the ranks.
Both Gedson Fernandes and Florentino Luis featured prominently under Bruno Lage towards the back end of the season and ultimately were crowned Primeira Liga champions. Both players have risen from the Benfica B ranks and proved so far that they can play at the highest level, for a top, top club.
Rafael Leão makes the squad and deservedly so, the forward is one of the hottest properties in Europe at the moment and has just had the season of his (young) career so far, helping his Lille side finish 2nd in the Ligue 1, thus securing qualification for next seasons UEFA Champions League group stage. After not making the squad for the first 7 games of the season, the 19-year-old began to make appearances from the bench, gradually increasing his minutes as the season went on. It was when he started appearing in the starting 11 that the Lille fans witnessed his magic up front. Overall, he started 16 games, scored 8 goals and contributed 3 assists. He is a great asset for this Portuguese U20 side given that he has the experience of playing and starring for a top club in a top 5 European league.
Diogo Dalot has made 23 appearances for Manchester United this season in one of, if not the most challenging league in the world. His performances have been met with mixed reviews so far in Stretford, however it is important to note that he is a right-back who has so far featured for United as a spare part, somebody to seemingly plug a gap. In the Premier League this season Dalot has operated at right-midfield, right-wing and left back, starting just 5 games as a right-back, his natural position. This season will have been an immense learning curve for him, and he is a player who is growing with each game and at right-back, where he will play for Portugal U20, we all know the quality he possesses.
Who are the opponents?
Portugal are in Group F and face Korea Republic, South Africa and Argentina.
Argentina come into this in mixed form, winning 5 of their last 9 games (mixture of friendlies and CONMEBOL matches). They are a nation with terrific pedigree in this competition, they have won the U20 World Cup 6 times, more than any other nation. They finished runners up to Ecuador in the U-20 South American Championship. Many bookmakers have made Argentina 3rd favourites for the tournament, behind France and Portugal.
South Africa come into this after finishing in third place at the Africa U20 Cup of Nations, being eliminated by Mali who eventually went on to win the tournament. This marks the 4th time they will have competed at an U20 world cup, the furthest they have got being the Round of 16 in 2009.
Korea Republic (South Korea) come into this tournament after finishing runners-up in the Asia U-19 tournament. They have made 15 previous U20 world cup appearances, with their best finish being 4th place.
Portugal will face a stiff test from Argentina in the group stages, however at the U20 World Cup the top two teams from each group qualify for the knockout stages, therefore if Portugal can manage to beat both South Afirca and Korea Republic, it is probable that the 1st and 2nd spot will go to Portugal and Argentina. The matchup between the two heavyweights with likely determine who tops the group and who finishes as runners up.
Portugal with their incredible experience should go into this tournament both confident and hopeful, France are the junior Seleção’s biggest challengers as they pack an abundance of talent themselves and come into this tournament in fine form. However, these Portuguese boys have proved time and time again they have what it takes to dominate at tournaments. Their mix of experience and talent will be pivotal to their progress.
Portugal v South Korea (25th May 15:30)
Portugal v Argentina (28th May 18:00)
South Africa v Portugal (31st May 20:30)