Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the U21 Euro 2017
group-stage clash between Portugal Under-21s
and Serbia Under-21s
from the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium in Bydgoszcz. The Selecao are among the favourites to go all the way in this biennial tournament having cruised through the qualifiers with an unbeaten record, while Serbia are among the rank outsiders.
Portugal were beaten finalists two years ago, going down to Sweden on penalties in Prague, yet since then they have incredibly played 14 and not lost a single match. Prior to that they failed to reach the previous two finals, but there is certainly hope that this current crop have what it takes to burst into the senior fold in what is a hugely exciting period for the reigning European champions.
The Selecao have twice been runners-up in this U21s tournament, having also reached the final back in 94 in their first participation, and they are behind only Spain and Germany as many bookies' favourites to potentially go all the way this time around. The previous group that reached the final two years ago contained the likes of William Carvalho, Raffael Guerreiro, Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva, each of whom are plying their trade for elite European clubs.
Portugal topped Group 4 qualifying with an unbeaten record, winning eight and drawing two of their 10 games. Thirty-four goals were scored in all and just five conceded, highlighting the gulf between themselves and the also-rans of the continent. A different matter entirely now that they are here, though, as they are in the same group as Spain and only one team will automatically progress through to the semi-finals.
Macedonia complete the four-team group, given little chance of pulling off an upset in what should be a straight shootout between Portugal and Spain. The best-placed of the three teams to finish second will also make it through to the knockout stages, so it is vital that the Selecao do not slip up this afternoon. Since qualifying for the tournament Rui Jorge
's men have played four friendlies, beating Germany, Norway and the Czech Republic but drawing with the Netherlands.
DID YOU KNOW? Seven of Portugal's last 10 matches have been won without conceding a goal, while Serbia have not scored in two of their last four games. It has been two-and-a-half years since the Selecao lost in normal time, meanwhile, and they have conceded just eight times in their last 14 outings since being edged out by Sweden on penalties in the 2015 final.
While Portugal easily topped their group, Serbia only managed second behind an impressive Italy side. They were just one point short of the Azzurri, however, so they should not be discounted entirely, and they also won the World Cup at Under-20s level just a couple of years back. This tournament is a good gauge to see how some of those players have pushed on; a chance to further test themselves against some of the continent's best players at this age grade.
Portugal boasted the likes of William Carvalho, Raffael Guerreiro, Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva in their ranks two years ago when reaching the final of this tournament, each of whom have earned many admirers. Silva recently competed a big-money move to AC Milan, in fact, but their success meant that a quick promotion to the senior side was inevitable. It is now over to the next batch of youngsters to match, or indeed better, the performance of 2015.
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Serbia do not have a bad record at U21 level, reaching a couple of finals and a semi in the past eight instalments. More recently, they won five matches on the spin last year to set up their place in the 2017 competition, but they have stuttered of late with just the one win in their last four. Scoring, as touched upon a little earlier, has often been a problem - they netted in half of those games.
The Young Eagles finished bottom of their group in 2015, however, and also failed to win a match in their previous appearance at the tournament. That means they are seeking a first victory in exactly a decade this afternoon, when they went on to reach the final. The hope of Nenad Lalatovic
is that he can guide his charges to yet another final appearance, but finishing above one of Portugal or Spain will be extremely tough.
PORTUGAL XI: Varela; Cancelo, Edgar, Semedo, Rodrigues; Carvalho, Neves, Fernandes, Guedes, Jota, Podence
SERBIA XI: Milinkovic; Gajic, Jovanovic, Veljkovic, Antonov; Zivkovic, Maksimovic, Grujic, Gacinovic; Cavric, Djurdjevic
The big team news is that Renato Sanches misses out on a place in Portugal's starting lineup for this opening fixture. The Bayern Munich attacker has struggled for playing time since making a move from Benfica last summer, and he has been made to pay for that as he has not only failed to make the senior squad for the Confederations Cup but also been overlooked for inclusion today.
Sanches is not the only promising youngster in the Selecao's ranks, as Joao Cancelo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes
, Bruma and Goncalo Guedes
have also been talked up massively. Bruma is another to miss out this afternoon, though, as Jorge goes with a likely 4-3-3 formation - Jota, Podence and Guedes tasked with leading the forward line. Cancelo and Rodrigues occupy the full-back berths.
Lalatovic appears to be going with a 4-4-2 formation, meanwhile, utilising the strengths of Uros Djurdjevic and Aleksandar Cavric up top. It could be a case of keeping things tight for the underdogs for as long as possible, but the Serbians will always fancy themselves to nick a goal and live up to their tags of dark horses. Very tough for them, placed in a difficult group, yet they have promising talents of their own.
Both sets of players are now out on the field of play, with kickoff just a couple of minutes away at the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium in Bydgoszcz. First the anthems, starting with a Serbia side with their work cut out to progress out of Group B. Then comes Portugal, finalists in this tournament two years ago and fancied by many to match the senior side in prevailing on the continent.
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We are up and running in this opening Group B game at U21 Euro 2017
, with Portugal aiming to get off to a winning start. Any sort of slip up could well prove costly, as Spain are also in this group and only the top team will progress through.
Portugal forward Jota with an early shot from the edge of the box, which takes a deflection and ends up drifting well wide of goal. Vanja Milinkovic-Savic happy to stroll across and collect before it went out for a goal-kick.
YELLOW CARD! An early caution for Serbia, as Guedes cuts in well from out on the right-hand flank and shows some silky footwork. Liverpool midfielder Marko Grujic lunged in and was rightly cautioned by the official.
OFF THE POST! Bright start for the Selecao, as from the free kick Ruben Neves was left alone in all sorts of space. He directed the volley back across goal, but it hit the post and was fortunately cleared away by the Serbians.
That was a decent attempt from Neves because the angle was against him at the back post. Serbia certainly riding their luck in these opening stages, however, and probably should be behind with less than 10 minutes of the game played.
A more evenly-balanced contest in Bydgoszcz now, with Serbia doing well to settle a little. Portugal still the team on top, knocking the ball around through midfield and into the final third in search of that breakthrough goal.
BLOCK! Nice link-up between the Portugal front three, but this latest move breaks down on the edge of the box. Right up the other end, from Serbia's first attack, Milan Gajic cut the ball back for Grujic who was only denied an opener by a superb block six yards out.
So for all of Portugal's dominance for the majority of these opening 15 minutes, Portugal have actually created the best chance. Grujic maybe should have done better from fairly close range, but full credit to the Selecao for their solid defending.
Lively enough opening quarter to this Group B encounter in Bydgoszcz. Portugal hit the post through a back-post Neves volley, while Grujic came close to scoring for Serbia at the other end of the pitch a short time ago.
YELLOW CARD! A case of both teams struggling to keep hold of the ball at the moment. A poor pass is pounced on by Serbia, forcing Ruben Semedo to lunge in on Cavric and concede a free kick 23 yards from goal. Referee reaches into his pocket for a second time.
Andrija Zivkovic with a rather poor attempt from the free kick, failing to get the ball over the wall. Portugal quickly regroup and put together an attack, which culminates in a corner being won. End-to-end stuff at the moment!
A quiet spell in the match once more as Portugal struggle to get the ball into the final third. They looked very bright in the opening 10 minutes or so but since then there has not been a great deal between the two teams.
Portugal have a great defensive record, remember, conceding just eight times in 14 games since the 2015 Euros. Just the one chance for their opponents so far, which ended with the ball being blocked around six or seven yards from goal.
Spain take on Macedonia straight after this game, incidentally. Spain will be hoping to see Portugal drop a couple of points, knowing that only one team is guaranteed a place in the semi-finals. So far, so good on that front!
CHANCE! Big chance for the Young Eagles to open the scoring, but Uros Djurdjevic fired horribly wide from close range once latching on to Andrija Zivkovic's through-ball. Great pass, great run - dreadful finish with only the keeper to beat.
The match has become very stretched all of a sudden. Portugal attack at one end, failing to create any sort of opening, while up the other Varela has to quickly race out to sweep up a ball through the middle. Well read by the young stopper.
Some decent football being played by Portugal at times but they have barely threatened the opposition keeper. Just the one clear-cut chance for the Selecao so far, which Neves failed to truly make the most of.
Only Germany netted more goals than Portugal in qualifying, but it has been a frustrating opening test for them so far. Serbia have done well to restrict their opponents and will argue that they have also done enough to snatch the lead.
CHANCE! Not the easiest of chances of Jota, granted, but it is pretty much as good as things have got for Portugal in the past 30 minutes. A ball from the right was met by the forward, who could not direct his shot on target from eight yards out.
GOAL! PORTUGAL U21s 1-0 SERBIA U21s (GONCALO GUEDES)
Portugal have the breakthrough goal, courtesy of a close-range header from Guedes. Jota played a delightful through-ball for Daniel Podence to get on the end of, which he managed to do so and subsequently sent a cross into the middle. Vanja Milinkovic-Savic got a touch to the ball, helping it into the air where Guedes was waiting to pounce.
Serbia were enjoying their best spell in the match prior to that Guedes breakthrough, so it will be interesting to see how they perform in the remaining minutes of this first half. They cannot afford to concede a second goal.
Fast approaching the midway point in this Group B clash, which has seen both teams create a couple of chances. Portugal managed to take one of theirs, meaning that they will likely take a slender advantage into the interval.
Serbia unable to truly get going since falling behind. Might just be a case of getting themselves into half time and regrouping ahead of the second half, knowing that this match is far from over at this stage in proceedings.
HALF TIME: PORTUGAL U21s 1-0 SERBIA U21s
Portugal take a one-goal lead into the break, courtesy of Goncalo Guedes's close-range header 37 minutes in. Serbia will feel a little hard done by, having restricted their opponents to minimal chances and create one or two of their own, but the Selecao's forward three players managed to click into gear when it mattered to make a key breakthrough.
Portugal, backed by many to go one better than two years ago when losing to Sweden in the final, started the game well and came within the frame of the goal of making an early breakthrough. Ruben Neves was left all alone at the back post when a free kick was flicked on, but the angle was slightly against him and he could only volley across the face of goal and off the post.
That was essentially as good as things got for Portugal prior to their breakthrough moment, though, as Serbia - themselves two-time finalists in the past eight instalments of the competition - created a couple of openings of their own. Milan Gajic cut the ball back for Liverpool man Marko Grujic, who was brilliantly denied from close range by an opposition body, before Uros Djurdjevic slotted horribly wide when latching on to Andrija Zivkovic's through-ball.
Half a chance would come and go for Diogo Jota, as he failed to divert a right-sided cross on goal from inside the box, but the Selecao's opener would arrive just a minute or so late through Goncalo Guedes. The front three linked up, with Jota sliding the ball through for Daniel Podence down the left, and he in turn saw his cross parried into the air by Vanja Milinkovic-Savic for Guedes to nod over the line.
Portugal maybe just about deserving of their half-time lead, then, but there is certainly still plenty to play for in the next 45 minutes. Both sets of players will be back with us in a couple of minutes' time at the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium.
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RESTART! We are back up and running in Bydgoszcz, where both sides have made a half-time change - more on those in a moment. Serbia slot the ball home early on but the offside was quickly up on the far side.
Bruma, surprisingly overlooked from the start, is on for Jota in the first of those half-time changes. In terms of the Young Eagles, they have turned to Plavsic in place of Cavric for the start of the second half. Will it make any difference?
It was Djurdjevic who found the back of the net within a minute of the restart. A good finish from the forward, but he was correctly waved for offside. Still, that provides plenty of hope that Serbia are still very much in this one!
YELLOW CARD! Mijat Gacinovic goes for a curler from right on the edge of the box, which comes to nothing. Portugal break and Gacinovic is forced into action to bring his man down. Three cautions this afternoon, two shown to the Serbians.
Fernandes with a nice ball towards the back post, where Carvalho had gambled by getting forward but could not quite get his boot on the end of it. Portugal turning the screw a little, but Grujic has tested Bruno Varela
to again show that it is not all one-way traffic.
YELLOW CARD! It has all become a little scrappy in Bydgoszcz. Nemanja Antonov luges in on Edgar Ie, catching his opponent on the chest with his boot and rightly becoming the third Serbia player to see yellow.
Serbia picking up the ball in some promising positions. Once again, though, the pullback is poor and Varela is not tested. A cross from deep is then a little too high for Grujic, who could not get his head on the ball.
CHANCE! Glorious chance for Grujic to head his side level. The cross a minute beforehand had a little too much on it, but this one was perfect and all the Liverpool man had to do was nod home from six yards. He failed to do so, heading wide of the target.
PORTUGAL SUB! Sanches, named Young Player of the Year at Euro 2016 last summer, is finally introduced with a third of the match remaining. Carvalho the man to make way, as Portugal hold onto their slender lead.
SAVE! Milan Gajic with another decent delivery from the right, which Mijat Gacinovic gets on the end of. The volleyed attempt was fairly central in the end, though, meaning that Varela could easily collect. Pressure building!
No easy games in this tournament, the saying goes, and it is very true - each side has had to battle to reach the 12-team tournament. Serbia giving a really good account of themselves this evening, deserving of an equaliser.
SUBS! Time for another batch of subs as we enter the final quarter of the match. Iuri Medeiros replaces Podence, who leaves the field with what could be a valuable assist. Aleksandar Filipovic on for Grujic in Serbia's second change.
Neves with a dreadful attempt from 30 yards out. Portugal have looked disjointed in this second half and were not all that much better in the first, but they have ultimately done enough to claim the points as things stand.
YELLOW CARD! The card count continuing to mount, with Milan Gajic the fifth player to enter the referee's book. Bruma was looking to pull away from the wing but was tugged back, leaving the official with little choice.
Substitute Nemanja Radonjic cuts in from the left and blasts a drive towards goal, but he puts a little too much on his attempt and it ends over the bar. The one criticism of Serbia has been their lack of on-target efforts today.
SERBIA SUB! Skipper Uros Djurdjevic makes way, replaced by Ognjen Ozegovic for the remaining 15 minutes or so. Serbia have been knocking on the door for a leveller throughout this second half, but they are fast running out of time to find it.
CHANCE! Serbia win a corner and it is swung into a dangerous area. Nemanja Radonjic gets his name to the ball, smashing it wide on the volley from six yards out. Tough, but maybe should have rifled home.
Portugal boss Rui Jorge
will be desperate to hear that full-time whistle, with his side continuing to hold on. No denying that Serbia have deserved an equaliser on the basis of this second-half performance, as another cross flashed across goal.
SHOT! Well the inevitable has happened, as Serbia are caught out on the counter as we enter the final throes of the match. Bruma found himself on the ball in acres of space, but could only fire into an opposition player when cutting into the box.
Shocker from Portugal, rather summing up their second half. They again hit Serbia on the counter, yet despite what appeared to be a three-on-three situation at one point, there is neither a shot on target or so much as half a chance created.
We are now into the final four minutes of the contest and it is looking increasingly likely as though Portugal have done enough to hold on for the three points. A real battle for them, with Macedonia and Spain still to come in Group B.
CLOSE! Portugal's best chance of the second half falls to Iuri Medeiros, who initially did well to cut inside from the right but then could only curl the ball wide of the target from inside the area. Could that prove costly?
GOAL! PORTUGAL U21s 2-0 SERBIA U21s (BRUNO FERNANDES)
Far from their best this evening, Portugal can count themselves lucky to have bagged a late second. This really was a quality goal, though, as Sanches flicked the ball into the path of Fernandes, who controlled it and tucked home to seal the points.
FULL TIME: PORTUGAL U21s 2-0 SERBIA U21s
The referee blows his whistle for full time, bringing an end to an entertaining opening match in Group B. Portugal can consider themselves fortunate to escape with all three points, having been made to ride their luck for pretty much the whole of the second half. For all Serbia's pressure, though, they did not test the opposition keeper as much as they should have and will need to improve that aspect of their game ahead of meetings against Spain and Macedonia.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events in Bydgoszcz. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, while updates from the second of the day's games - Spain's clash with Macedonia - will be available elsewhere on the site in the next 15 minutes. Thanks for joining!