Group A winners Portugal and runners-up Italy meet once more to decide the 2023 Under-19 Championship at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 21:00.
In a repeat of the 2003 and 2018 finals – respectively won by Italy in Liechtenstein and Portugal in Finland – both sides are aiming to claim the trophy for a second time.
Portugal were the top seed ahead of the tournament. They received a bye in the qualifying round, claiming maximum points from the Elite Round Group 4 thanks to a 1-0 win over Sweden and identical 3-0 wins over Czechia and Croatia. In the group stage, they defeated Poland 2-0, Italy 5-1 and Malta 2-1 before cruising past Norway with an emphatic 5-0 win in the semi-finals. They won the championship in 2018, reaching the finals eleven times.
Italy, on the other hand, reached the finals eight times, winning the Under-19 EURO in 2003. They qualified to the Elite Round despite placing third in Group 5 after a 0-2 defeat to Estonia, a 3-2 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina and a 1-0 win over Poland. In the Elite Round Group 2, they defeated Germany 3-2, obtaining a 0-0 draw with Slovenia and a 2-2 draw with Belgium. In the group stage, they defeated Malta 4-0, lost 1-5 to Portugal and then held Poland in a 1-1 draw to qualify thanks to a larger number of goals scored when compared to Poland. However, in the semi-finals, they were in excellent form, defeating Group B winners Spain by the odd goal in five.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Italy coach Alberto Bollini, drew attention to the significance of both Portugal and Italy emerging from Group A to reach the final. He acknowledged Portugal’s undefeated record, highlighting their formidable strength as evident from their commanding performance throughout the group stage. Bollini emphasised the resilience his team displayed, exemplified by their ability to overcome setbacks and keep fighting. He further stressed Portugal’s defensive prowess, conceding a mere two goals throughout the tournament, setting the stage for a thrilling encounter.
Portugal coach, Joaquin Minheiro shed light on Italy’s tactical changes in their recent games. He commended his team’s preparation, having meticulously studied and adapted to these alterations. Minheiro revealed that this process of understanding their opponents began five years ago, incorporating a series of friendly matches as part of their meticulous planning. Despite missing 10 players in the final phase, the coach emphasized that Portugal’s strength lies in their collective effort, with each player contributing to their success.
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Portugal captain Diogo Prioste, expressed heartfelt appreciation to the loyal supporters who have backed them throughout the tournament. He added that securing this trophy would undoubtedly be one of the most memorable highlights of their careers. Despite having faced Italy once already in the past week, Prioste urged everyone to focus solely on the final, putting aside recent outcomes and embracing the fresh challenge that awaits them.
On the other hand, Italy captain, Giacomo Faticanti, acknowledged the uphill battle his team had faced thus far. Reflecting on their loss to Portugal, he emphasized the team’s strong performance against Spain, which has bolstered their confidence. Faticanti highlighted the significance of the Italian supporters, who have fervently followed the team’s journey. The 20-year trophy drought only serves to heighten the determination of the Italian squad to emerge victorious and create history once again.
The UEFA Under-19 final between Portugal and Italy is set to take place at the National Stadium in Ta’ Qali. With doors opening at 7 PM and the match kicking off at 9 PM, fans can expect an electrifying atmosphere. Tickets are available for purchase from tickets.mfa.com.mt or designated ticket booths at the stadium, allowing fans to be a part of this historic event.