Today marks the 1 year anniversary of FC Porto’s UEFA Youth League triumph, a 3-1 win against Chelsea FC. This campaign is a great story and an key developmental episode for many players who have the potential to represent their clubs and the Seleção at the very highest level.
The UEFA Youth League (UYL) is a European youth tournament, formed in the 2012/13 season and organised in the shadows of the senior competition, the UEFA Champions League (UCL). The group stages of the UYL are comprised of the same teams that qualify for the UCL group stages, with those clubs sending an under-19’s side to compete.
The UYL started fairly well for the Portuguese clubs, SL Benfica reached the final of the inaugural competition, losing to FC Barcelona in the final. The following season both FC Porto and SL Benfica reached the quarter-finals before losing out. Fast forward to 2016-17 and again SL Benfica are losing finalists. Portugal had become the first nation to lose the final twice. The following season, more heart-break. FC Porto, after a 2-2 draw in normal time, were beaten 5-4 on penalties and knocked out the semi-finals by English side Chelsea FC.
So, following the disappointment of the semi-final defeat to Chelsea, an immensely talented FC Porto crop featuring Romário Baro, Fábio Silva, Fábio Vieria, Diogo Leite, Diogo Queiros and many others, were on a mission to put things right. They steamrolled their way to the Round of 16, winning 4 of their 6 matches, drawing 1 and losing the other. Mário Silva’s men played Tottenham Hotspur in the Round of 16, a cagey first half meant both sides went in at 0-0. The second half started much better for Porto, who were immediately on the front foot. 2 goals in quick succession, the first from Ángel Torres on 52 minutes and the second from Romário Baro in the 57th, put Porto firmly in the driving seat with just over half an hour to go. The junior Dragãoes were able to withstand some Spurs pressure and finished the game as 2-0 victors. The Dragãoes were to face Danish side FC Midtjylland in the quarter-final.
Porto got off to a great start, asserting their dominance from the first whistle with long spells of possession and after 15 minutes, they got their breakthrough. Mor Ndiaye heading home a Fábio Vieira delivery put the home-side 1-0 up. Porto then controlled the rest of the match, not allowing the Danish side to manoeuvre a way back into the game. Then in the 78th and 89th Porto delivered their killer blows. Goals from Afonso Sousa (assisted by Romário Baro for his 3rd assist so far) and Gonçalo Borges ensured a comfortable 3-0 win. Another clean sheet for the Porto defence, who were yet to concede in the knockouts, and free-flowing attacker meant Porto had a lot of confidence going into the semi-finals. The four teams left: FC Porto, Hoffenheim, FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC.
FC Porto’s opponents were German side Hoffenheim, who had topped their group and knocked out Real Madrid in the previous round. The match had a similar feel to the Midjytlland game in that Porto grabbed a first-half goal and then killed the game in the second half. The opener came courtesy of the in-form Romário Baro. Fábio Silva then popped up with a goal in the 78th minute before Tiago Matos got the 3rd and final goal. Another 3 goals, another clean-sheet and another win for FC Porto, they had made it to the UEFA Youth League final for the first time. Their opponents? last years semi-final rivals Chelsea FC.
Porto’s clash with Hoffenheim, courtesy of UEFA’s official YouTube channel
The West London outfit arrived in Nyon for the final with an immense pedigree in the Youth League, despite its relatively short lifespan thus far. They won back-to-back titles in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and then lost out in the final in 2017-18. Porto, a side without a UYL trophy or even a final appearance, had to face a club making their 4th final appearance in 5 seasons and who had beaten them last season. However, Porto and their supporters went into this clash confident and for good reason. They had dismantled every opponent they faced, scored goals at will, had Romário Baro completely dominating the midfield whilst the defence of Lopes, Leite, Queiros and Tomás Esteves appeared almost impenetrable.
The game started tense, with both sides feeling the other out. Then, in the 14th minute, a slipped through ball saw Fábio Silva latch on before rounding the Chelsea keeper, however, he scuffed the finish and the ball was collected in the grateful arms of Ziger. Just 3 minutes later, Ángel Torres broke down the right-hand-side before firing a low cross across the face of goal, Fábio Vieira was on hand to finish and Porto found themselves in a familiar position, 1-0 up in the first half, as they had been so many times before during this campaign.
Porto managed the game well against a strong Chelsea side and went into half-time 1-0 up, 50% of the battle was won and the clean sheet was still firmly intact. 7 minutes after the restart and Chelsea are back in it, a frustrating and frankly goal for Porto to give away, after dealing with a Chelsea corner well, Familia-Castila was able to lash in a long ball from just in front of the half-way line which went over the head’s of the Porto defence who were advancing forward, it evaded all but one man, Chelsea’s Redan who had timed his run perfectly and nodded home to make it 1-1. For the first time in a knockout game, Porto had conceded. The game was now a test of not only skill but character, Porto had to respond without losing their heads. 2 minutes later, a low driven shot was parried by Ziger which ricocheted onto Queiros, back onto Ziger, back onto Queiros and then into the back of the net. A scrappy, pinball-esque goal had put Porto ahead, a far-cry from some of the delightful goals scored in previous rounds, however, that didn’t matter, just over 30 minutes stood between Porto and UYL victory.
The 74th-minute strikes and Porto are on the attack, the ball arrived at the feet of talisman Romário Baro who cleverly back-heeled into the path of the onrushing Afonso Sousa who finished with aplomb. 3-1. 15 or so minutes to go.
Porto manage the remainder of the game fantastically well, playing short passes in the right area and maintaining a great shape without the ball. Then, the moment the travelling Porto supporters and the players had waited for, the final whistle. That was it. FC Porto is crowned UEFA Youth League champions, becoming the first Portuguese side to do so in the process.
You can watch highlights of the final courtesy of UEFA’s official YouTube channel
This side has an immense ceiling of potential and I expect many to be in and around the senior Seleção side for years to come.
Romário Baro finished the tournament with a fantastic 6 goals and has gone on to make 17 appearances in all competitions this season for FC Porto and would have made a lot more had it not been for a lengthy spell out the side with an injury. Fábio Silva broke FC Porto records this season when he became the clubs youngest ever starter and goalscorer at just 17 years of age. Diogo Queiros opted to move to Mouscron on loan in order to gain vital first-team experience and he has done just that. Playing 19 times in Belgium’s top tier. There is no immediate rush for this crop of youngsters to become world-class superstars, for now, what these players need is consistent football. Their development will depend majorly on the decisions themselves and their club make over the next 2 or 3 years but one thing is for sure, for some of these players, this is only the first of many honours.