The Portuguese U21 national team remained perfect in qualifying as they notched a hard fought 0:1 road victory over Macedonia U21.
Manager Boban Babunski fielded what looked to be a 4-2-3-1 formation in the home qualifier against the current leader in the group, Portugal U21. The game opened slowly as both teams were feeling each other out. Portugal had the lone quality chance early on when João Mário fired just wide in the 2nd minute.
Macedonia U21 had its first real chance in the 18th minute through Darko Velkovski. Darko received a cross and sent in a header toward goal that was saved by the visiting keeper out for a corner. In the 26th minute, Portugal nearly opened the scoring but the powerful shot by André Gomes from inside the area struck the crossbar.
Portugal was then given a penalty in the 38th minute when the referee ruled that Martin Blazhevski had committed a foul inside the area. It was a questionable ruling, but keeper Stole Dimitrievski made a great save to deny the spot kick attempt by Ricardo Esgaio. Dimitrievski then made another brilliant stop on the rebound opportunity from that penalty to keep the game scoreless.
At halftime, each team made one change. Macedonia brought on Kire Markoski for Marjan Radeski. Portugal, however, created the first big chance in the 2nd half when André Gomes fired just over the goal from a good position in the 47th minute. Three minutes later, Macedonia should have done better to potentially take the lead. Stefan Ashkovski made a great run and managed to reach the Portuguese keeper who just got a piece of the ball. Then, on the rebound, the ball fell to Dorian Babunski but he whiffed on the shot from close range and it went wide for a squandered opportunity.
The 58th minute saw Dimitrievski show good reflexes to make another important save, while a minute later Portugal had a goal disallowed for offside. The breakthrough eventually came in the 64th minute when Tiago Ilori received a pass that beat the offside trap, and he managed to get his shot to the back of the net. That would prove to be the lone goal of the game in bringing Portugal three more points as Macedonia did not threaten the opposing goal the rest of the way.
In qualifying, Portugal now has the maximum 18 points from its six games and sucured a place into the play-offs, while Macedonia sits way back with just 4 points from its six games. Macedonia U21 has two more games in qualifying, both coming against Israel.
National Arena Philip II of Macedon in Skopje
Scorer: 64′ Thiago Ilori
Macedonia: Dimitrievski; Toshevski, Zajkov, Damchevski, Ashkovski; Micevski (C), Blazhevski, Velkovski (65′ Gjurgjevikj), Nikolov; Radeski (46′ Markoski), Babunski (60′ Simonovski).
Portugal: José Sá; Raphael Guerreiro, Thiago Ilori, Paulo Oliveira; Luis Gustavo (57′ Carlos Mané), André Gomes, Bernardo Silva, João Mário; Ricardo Esgaio, Ivan Cavaleiro (46′ Gonçalo Paciência), Ricardo Pereira (75′ Tó Zé).
Yellow cards: Micevski, Blazhevski (M).
Referee: Rob Rogers (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ciaran Delaney and Robert Clarke (Ireland)
Video of the lone goal: