Ireland’s European Under-21 Championships preparations were dealt a blow in Dundalk after being beaten 2-1 by Portugal at a freezing Oriel Park. Francisco Junior’s excellent strike and an Aiden O’Brien own goal put the visitors 2-0 to the good, before Matt Doherty pulled one back for the Irish.
The Irish went into the game on the back of confidence-boosting victories over both their Italian and Dutch counterparts. The game was an opportunity for manager Noel King to test some of his fringe players ahead of his side’s trip to the Faroe Islands in August.
Aside from Everton’s Shane Duffy, none of the starting XI had featured more than twice for the under-21s. However, the comprehensive nature of those recent triumphs was thrown into disarray in the early stages in Louth.
Barcelona’s Luis Gustavo had the first effort of the night, but fired wide, before Portugal made their early dominance pay. Another promising break saw Aldair’s shot blocked, and when the ball fell to Junior 12 yards out, the Everton midfielder lashed the ball home with a brilliant finish after 13 minutes. The Iberians continued to dominate the opening period, but Ireland did fashion a couple of chances with Sean Murray twice forcing saves from Luis Ribeiro.
Both managers made numerous changes at half-time, and it was again the away side quickest from the traps to extend their lead in the 57th minute. Portugal won two corners in quick succession, and from the latter, Miguel Lourenco’s near-post attempt was headed into his own net by O’Brien.
The last time these sides met in a friendly, the Portuguese ran out 2-0 winners two years ago in Portugal, and little seemed to suggest anything different was on the cards in this latest match-up. Yet the hosts muscled their way back into the contest when Doherty met Murray’s corner to head in his first international goal.
The goal was to prove as little more than a consolation, as the Portuguese comfortably held on to complete a deserved victory. The result will give King plenty of food for thought as his side faces a much sterner test when hosting Germany in September in their attempt to qualify for the European Championships for the first time.