Luca Lipani raised his hands into his head in a sign of despair, as if he couldn’t believe what just happened to him. And how could he? The midfielder was about to be a hero, but 37 minutes after scoring Italy’s goal, he ended up expelled with a red card in the first half. And it completely changed the game. Portugal then scored five goals, took the 5-1 win and also the joy at the Centenary Stadium.
LIPANI’S FLY TO HEAVEN
Italy could have had the game in their hands. For their second match at UEFA U19 Championship, they were the first team to enter the pitch for warm-up and the last one to leave. “Preparation”, said coach Bollini, watching it all closely. So as the referee started the match, it only took five minutes for Luca Lipani to rise higher than everyone and head the opener for Italy, after Hasa’s cross: 1-0.
Portugal struggled and relied in ball possession, but Italy closed down all spaces. Hugo Felix had to get back too often into the defence area to help the team in the build-up. In the stands, though, six people were confident about a win: It was the coach’s Joaquim Milhero family.
They arrived in Malta one day before the game and couldn’t even talk to the coach. “We are seeing him now for the first time, but we are confident about the win”, says Joana, wife of Milhero’s cousin.
And she was right. In the 35th minute, Carlos Borges set the ball and Rodrigo Ribeiro showed up to mark the equaliser: 1-1.
A draw wasn’t that bad. They both had time to chase after the win. But this was when everything changed. After opening the score, Lipani, who had already been booked, left his hand in the air and hit Gustavo’s Sá face in a dispute. The second yellow card was a breaking point for Italy’s game plan. The midfielder walked out with his eyes glued to the grass, as if he couldn’t look up to those in front of him.
Nothing was the same after that.
Bollini left the pitch with Italy right after the whistle, while Milhero stayed talking with three of his assistants, being the last one to leave and the first to come up again. So as the clock restarted, It’s Gustavo Sá that made the second goal for Portugal, in the 57th minute, turning the score: 2-1.
He definitely sets his mark in the field, moments after shooting a ball for the fans and ending up throwing it to the scouts – the ones searching for rising stars in the tournament.
Italy’s reaction was just to wait until the final whistle, but in the 68th, Portugal showed they were not going to walk out with a narrow victory. Gabriel Bras, in a carbon copy of his opening game’s goal, scored the third one.
And just when the shadows started to cool down the pitch, Hugo Felix lit up the fanbase again, playing with both feet to fool the defenders to score the 4-1.
Three minutes later, against a completely distracted Italy, João Gonçalves scored the final one.
The final whistle came with smiles at the stands, and Rodrigo Ribeiro’s dance towards the crowd just said it all. A dominant victory for the Group A leader, not just for their goalscoring power but also the patience and on-pitch serious attitude.
As Milheiro explained to his players, and later revealed to AIPS: “Now it’s the time to keep our feet on the ground. For flying, we still have time”.
Credit: AIPS Media