David Platt lost his unbeaten record as the England Under-21 coach in the last game before the European Championships in Switzerland next month. Antonio Tonel scored the decisive goal in front of a capacity 28,000 crowd here last night.
England looked to develop their attacking momentum with Malcolm Christie partnered up front by Alan Smith. But, defensively, they sometimes looked vulnerable to the neat approach play of the Portuguese, who will be in their group in Switzerland.
England had to leave out the centre-back Wes Brown, who was suffering from blurred vision after a training ground accident when he was struck in the eye by a ball. The England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, had hinted at the weekend that Brown could still make his final 23 for Japan and Korea and had planned to watch him last night.
The early stages were littered with niggling free-kicks and misplaced passes and the half-hour mark was reached with neither goalkeeper having been seriously tested. But, out of the blue, Portugal took the lead after 39 minutes – a goal which raised questions about the defending of the home side.
Candidi Costa floated over a free-kick from the right of the penalty area and Tonel was allowed a free header which Paul Robinson could not keep out even though he got a hand to the ball.
Robinson was then relieved not to concede a second goal when he appeared to leave a 35 yard free-kick from Ednilson which struck the base of a post. Platt, who has not suffered a defeat since taking over as Under-21 coach from Howard Wilkinson last summer made three half-time substitutions as he looked for his side to inject some life into their play.
David Dunn made way for Jermaine Pennant with Gareth Barry taking over the captain's armband while Peter Crouch and Chris Kirkland replaced Christie and Robinson respectively. Later in the half Newcastle's £5m signing Jermaine Jenas was introduced for Sean Davis. But, despite some good touches from Pennant and the occasional threat from the 6ft 7in tall Crouch, Portugal held out comfortably.
ENGLAND UNDER-21: Robinson ( Kirkland, h-t); Wright (Young, 71), Konchesky, Carrick, Riggott, Barry, Dunn (Pennant, h-t), Davis (Jenas, 55), Smith (Zamora, 71), Christie (Crouch, h-t), Johnson (Defoe, 78). Substitutes not used: Knight, Prutton.
PORTUGAL UNDER-21: Leite (Marcio Santos, h-t); Ferreira, Tonel, Faisca, Ribeiro, Ednilson (Ricardo Costa, 83), Candido Costa (Briguel, 90), Tiago, Miguel, Paulo Costa (Teixeira, 57), Peixoto (Semedo, 25). Substitutes not used: Alves, Paulo.
Referee: D McDonald (Scotland).Reuse content