Goals from Goncalo Guedes and Bruno Fernandes late on in each half handed Portugal a comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia in their European U21 Championship opener.
Guedes opened the scoring in the 37th minute with a header before Euro 2016 Young Player of the Tournament Renato Sanches, who had started Saturday’s game in Bydgoszcz on the bench, set up the second for Fernandes two minutes from time.
The result puts Portugal on top of Group B ahead of Spain’s clash with Macedonia on Saturday evening with only one team guaranteed to qualify for the semi-finals.
Rui Jorge started Fernandes and Ruben Neves in central midfield ahead of Sanches – and the decision almost paid off straight away as Neves struck the post with a cushioned left-foot volley from Fernandes’ pinpoint set-piece.
Renato Sanches was named on the bench for Portugal with Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Neves preferred in midfield. Liverpool’s Marko Grujic started for Serbia.
Benfica’s Serbian winger Andrija Zivkovic was the standout player throughout the first half and he brilliantly carved out his side’s clearest chance of the opening period, sliding an inch-perfect through ball to Uros Djurdjevic, who failed to convert.
With the first half nearing a close, Portugal took the lead as Guedes headed into an unguarded net after Vanja Milinkovic-Savic had spilled a fierce cross from Daniel Podence back into the danger zone.
Portugal: Varela (6), Cancelo (6), Semedo (6), Ie (7), Rodrigues (6), Neves (7), Fernandes (8), Carvalho (6), Podence (6), Guedes (8), Jota (6) Subs: Bruma (6), Sanches (6), Medeiros (5)
Serbia: Milinkovic-Savic (5), Gajic (6), Veljkovic (6), Jovanovic (6), Antonov (5), Maksimovic (7), Grujic (5), Zivkovic (8), Gacinovic (7), Cavric (6), Djurdjevic (5) Subs: Plavsic (6), Radonjic (5), Ozegovic (5)
Man of the match: Bruno Fernandes
Zivkovic continued to exert his influence on proceedings in the second half, scooping a perfect inswinging cross from the right onto the head of Liverpool midfielder Marko Grujic, who somehow contrived to nod the ball wide.
On the hour mark, the Portugal fans in attendance had something else to cheer about as Sanches made his belated entrance, coming on to replace Joao Carvalho in the middle of the pitch. The Bayern Munich star played a bit-part role last season and seemed slightly off the pace following his introduction.
Portugal should have put the game beyond the reach of Serbia with five minutes remaining but substitute Iuri Medeiros curled the ball past the far post when well-positioned in the penalty area.
However, that miss proved not to be costly as Fernandes sealed the win with just two minutes remaining, calmly finishing from close-range after Sanches had provided a wonderfully deft chip into his path.
Man of the match – Bruno Fernandes
The Sampdoria midfielder was at the heart of everything Portugal produced going forward, spraying passes all over the pitch and threatening from set-pieces.
He controlled the game from the centre of the pitch and earned his just rewards by sealing the win for his side with a composed finished two minutes from the end.
Portugal take on Spain in Gdynia in Group B on Tuesday night, live on from 7.40pm, while Serbia face Macedonia earlier in the day at 5.00pm.