Gonçalo Santos' try in the dying minutes finally broke the deadlock and gave Portugal a 12-7 win over Iberian rivals Spain in the Rugby Europe U20 Championship 2017 final at the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest, Romania.
The win means that Portugal qualify for their appearance on the World Rugby U20 Trophy stage, having finished sixth on debut in 2013 and seventh two years later. It also denied Spain the chance to try and go one better than the runners-up finish they managed in their first appearance last year, when they agonisingly lost in sudden-death extra-time to Samoa.
Portugal had made the perfect start to the final on Saturday, Jose Cabral touching down for the opening try in only the second minute with Jorge Abecassis adding the conversion for what would be the only scores of the first half.
Spain drew level just after the hour mark when Ignacio Herrero touched down and Inaki Mateu added the conversion, but then just when the final seemed to be heading for the tournament's second penalty shootout, Abecassi created just enough space for Santos to go over in the corner to the delight of his team-mates.
Portugal join hosts Uruguay, U20 Championship 2016 relegated side Japan, African champions Namibia, Asia champions Hong Kong, Oceania Rugby U20 Trophy winners Fiji and Chile as South America's representatives. The field will be completed by the Rugby Americas North qualifier, which will be determined by a two-leg play-off between USA and Canada in June.
The World Rugby U20 Trophy 2017 takes place at the Estadio Charrua in Montevideo from 29 August to 10 September with the winner earning promotion to the U20 Championship in 2018.
Russia finished the tournament on a high with a 33-5 defeat of hosts Romania in the third place play-off with second-row Ruslan Bazhenov grabbing a hat-trick, while Belgium – who had dramatically won a penalty shootout with the Netherlands on day two – overcame Germany 30-14 to claim fifth place and the Dutch beat Switzerland 30-0 to finish seventh.
A week earlier, the opening day of matches at the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in the Romanian capital saw comfortable wins for Spain (36-13 over Switzerland), Portugal (42-5 against the Netherlands) and Russia (47-10 over Germany), while the host nation battled past a strong-finishing Belgium 28-22.
Spain scored six tries, three of them from second-half replacement Hugo Souto, against the Swiss, while Russian fly-half Aleksandr Budychenko scored one of his side's six tries amid a personal haul of 22 points. That tally was matched by Portugal's own No.10 Abecassis, who also crossed the whitewash.
Romania had looked set for a comfortable looking victory too when leading 25-8 with 10 minutes remaining, but two converted tries from replacement Rayane Leduc and centre Thomas Brouillard ensured a nervous finish.
In the first semi-final, Spain proved too strong for Russia with winger Jordi Jorba crossing for a try in each half of their 37-19 victory. Scrum-half Tomas Munilla, hooker Juan Soloaga and fly-half Hugo Marie Pichot were Spain's other try-scorers.
Then it was Portugal who broke home hearts with a 21-16 victory over Romania, two penalties from fly-half Abecassis in the last 30 minutes seeing his side come from behind to win. It was the try by Manuel Pinto, though, that proved the talking point, the full-back collecting a kick behind his own line and winding his way through the defence to score at the other end to the delight of his team-mates.
Rugby Europe U20 Championship results
Spain 36-13 Switzerland
Portugal 42-5 Netherlands
Russia 47-10 Germany
Romania 28-22 Belgium
Semi-finals: Romania 16-21 Portugal
Semi-finals: Spain 37-19 Russia
Switzerland 24-41 Germany
Belgium 30-30 Netherlands (Belgium won 5-4 in penalty shootout)
Final: Spain 7-12 Portugal
Third place: Russia 33-5 Romania
Fifth place: Germany 14-30 Belgium
Seventh place: Switzerland 0-30 Netherlands