Football Features

Five things you might have missed from Tuesday’s international football: Bruno Fernandes delivers pre-Euro 2024 masterclass

By CJ Smith

Five things you might have missed from Tuesday's international football: Bruno Fernandes delivers pre-Euro 2024 masterclass

Published: 22:20, 4 June 2024

Preparations for Euro 2024 continued on Tuesday evening with a host of national teams in action.

The likes of Portugal and Italy — winners of the last two European Championships — tested the squads they hope will lead them to glory in Germany, while two of England’s group opponents, Serbia and Slovenia, were also on show. And, of course, the Lionesses took on France in a key qualification match for the Uefa European Women’s Championship in 2025.

Read on for everything you might have missed from across the evening’s action.

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1. A mixed evening for England’s Euro 2024 opponents

Gareth Southgate’s scouts will have been out in force on Tuesday with two of England’s group-stage opponents in action.

Group C outsiders Slovenia had a positive evening with a 2-1 win over Armenia, most impressively doing so without both Jan Oblak and Benjamin Sesko. Many expect Matjaž Kek’s side to finish bottom of the group, but beware, Slovenia are now five games unbeaten. Of course, the last team to beat them were Denmark, who they’ll face at Euro 2024.

Serbia didn’t quite fare as well. The Eagles are bringing a highly-talented group to Germany this summer but found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat to fellow dark horses Austria in Vienna. That’s despite fielding the likes of Dusan Vlahovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Tadic.

Even more worrying for Serbia is the fact they’re now on a run of just one win in their last five matches, with only their friendly against Sweden at the weekend remaining to get some momentum going.

Southgate will also be closely watching Denmark, who face a Scandinavian double-header against Sweden and Norway this week.

2. Bruno Fernandes delivers masterclass in absence of Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t in the Portugal squad for their friendly against Finland as he got some much-needed rest ahead of Euro 2024, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves in Lisbon.

A Seleção das Quinas raced into a 3-0 lead inside 56 minutes, scoring with each of their first three big chances. Man City centre-back Ruben Dias — wearing the captain’s armband for the evening — was the unlikely man to kick things off with a header from a Vitinha corner in the 17th minute. Liverpool’s Diogo Jota doubled the lead from the penalty spot shortly before half-time.

The break saw the introduction of Goncalo Ramos, Pedro Neto, Goncalo Inacio, Diogo Dalot and Bruno Fernandes for Portugal and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the latter who made it 3-0 with a superb curling effort from outside the area.

However, we then saw why some in Portugal are worried about their prospects this summer with Roberto Martinez’s customary defensive frailties rearing their ugly heads. Portugal allowed veteran striker Teemu Pukki space in the box not once but twice in four minutes, scoring with Finland’s only two shots in the entire match.

Fortunately, Fernandes wasn’t finished there, with Euro 2024 qualifying’s top assist-provider going on to add Portugal’s fourth goal, while creating two chances, completing 92% of his passes and playing six passes into the final third. Incidentally, both Fernandes goals were assisted by Porto youngster Chico Conceicao, making just his second senior national team appearance.

In an attacking sense, this is exactly the sort of performance that makes Portugal contenders this summer. But if they’re to repeat their 2016 success, Martinez must find some defensive balance.

3. Italy struggle against Turkey

Just as they did at Euro 2020 — despite disappointing greatly — Turkey head into the summer as one of the tournament dark horses. They proved exactly why on Tuesday as they frustrated Italy and held the reigning champions to a 0-0 draw in Bologna. In fact, they should have won the game with Baris Yilmaz missing good chances either side of half-time.

This was the sort of performance that’ll do little to raise the low expectations among Italian supporters. The Azzurri managed just two shots on target all evening and often looked short on ideas, despite fielding a starting XI including the likes of Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Jorginho and Federico Dimarco. And all that is after taking just 14 points from qualifying, sitting six points behind England, level with Ukraine and with only two wins from matches not against bottom side Malta.

Italy have one more chance to build some confidence when they face Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday. After that, it’s their vital group opener against Albania which they simply must win with Spain and Croatia then lying in wait.

Worrying times for the holders.

4. Republic of Ireland finally win

The Republic of Ireland won’t feature at Euro 2024 and to be honest, it’s been an absolutely miserable time for the Boys in Green. Prior to Tuesday, Ireland’s only victories in their last 14 matches had come against Gibraltar (x2), Latvia and Malta; nations ranked 203rd, 136th and 171st in the Fifa world rankings, respectively.

Things seem to be improving under interim boss John O’Shea, however. His reign started with a credible 0-0 draw against Belgium in March, followed by a narrow defeat to a strong Switzerland side. O’Shea really slammed his CV into the desk on Tuesday, however, as Ireland beat a highly-fancied Hungary side including the likes of Dominik Szoboszlai, Milos Kerkez, Willi Orban and Peter Gulacsi 2-1 in Dublin.

Celtic’s Scottish Cup winner Adam Idah opened the scoring in the 36th minute before Omonia Nicosia defender Adam Lang levelled the scores just before half-time. That looked to be that, but then Tottenham talent Troy Parrott delivered a 92nd-minute winner to finally end a terrible Irish run. That’s another eye-catching moment for Parrott, who is fresh from a 17-goal season in the Eredivisie, despite playing on loan for a relegated Excelsior side.

5. Lionesses keep Euro 2025 hopes alive

Saving the best for last, England are still in the race to make Euro 2025.

The Lionesses faced the unenviable task of travelling to world No.3 France just days after a 2-1 defeat at home to the very same opponents. However, England are ranked second in the world themselves for a reason and a stunning first-half performance yielded goals from Georgia Stanway and Alessia Russo to take a 2-0 lead.

“It’s been an outstanding turnaround in form and performance compared to the abject nature of Friday night,” former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis said on BBC Radio 5 Live at half-time. “They’ve been exceptional at times. France have been pinned back and look a little bit shell-shocked. Katoto was left stranded and at half-time looked exhausted.”

The night in Saint-Etienne was not without hardship. France looked much-improved after the break and even pulled a goal back via the penalty spot thanks to Lyon forward Kadidiatou Diani. However, England were not to be denied, riding out late pressure to take all three points.

“I think we got our standards back to where we wanted them,” goalscorer Russo said after the match. “There are still parts we will work on for sure. We know the level is higher than ever and to even qualify for the Euros is going to be harder than ever.”

After four games, three giants of the women’s game are now separated by just two points in their qualifying group, with France top on nine, followed by Sweden and England on seven points, and the Republic of Ireland sat at the bottom without a point. The top two teams in the group proceed directly to Euro 2025, with the bottom two heading into the playoffs.

As tournament holders, it’s almost unthinkable that England won’t be in Switzerland next year. This victory has, at least, left things in their hands with only a home game against Ireland and a key trip to Sweden remaining.