Portugal 2 Czech Republic 1: Dramatic late winner boosts Cristiano Ronaldo and Co

Portugal’s blushes were spared as they came from behind to earn victory over the Czech Republic in their opening match at Euro 2024.

All eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo — anticipating the performance of a player who has been competing in Saudi Arabia for 18 months — but the 39-year-old missed a good chance to put his side ahead in the first half.


Instead, it was the Czech Republic who took the lead — with yet another strike from outside the box. Lukas Provod’s lovely hit was the 11th goal from outside the penalty area at this year’s tournament.

Portugal struggled to impose themselves in attack but were handed a huge slice of luck when Robin Hranac turned into his own net seven minutes after going behind.

It looked like their good fortune had flipped when Ronaldo was ruled just offside by the video assistant referee after the rebound from his header was turned in by Diogo Jota.

But then, in the dying stages, late substitute Francisco Conceicao earned all three points for Roberto Martinez’s side with just his second touch after 111 seconds on the pitch.

Here, The Athletic’s Tim Spiers, Tom Burrows and Sam Lee take us through the talking points.

It is nice to know that it’s not just England who seem to have problems fitting their quality players into a coherent setup. Portugal picked up a morale-boosting late victory and showed that they have enough options (quality on the bench, versatility on the pitch) to find different solutions, and more will be expected of them after finding a way to get over the line, but, a little like England, it was far from the most convincing opening victory.

They dominated the ball and Czech Republic were happy enough with that, but Portugal never really clicked, despite deploying an admirable fluid system.

Bernardo Silva, in particular, popped up everywhere, although he was often stationed high next to Ronaldo, with Bruno Fernandes deeper offering to take the ball from the centre-backs. Neither role was working as Martinez would have hoped.

Portugal’s build-up was too slow, with few players showing for it through the middle, and Joao Cancelo, Vitinha and Rafael Leao struggling to create when carrying it forward. The right side was largely quiet until wing-back Diogo Dalot moved higher after half-time. Then, Cancelo switched over from the left and, late on, put in a fine cross for Portugal’s disallowed goal, a move that was probably helped by Ruben Dias making an underlapping run from centre-back as Portugal committed more men forward.

The game seemed destined for a deserved draw, only for two late Portugal substitutes to combine to get the winner. Pedro Neto collected a long ball down the line, dribbled his way into space and found Conceicao — making his competitive international debut — who bundled the ball in.

— Sam Lee

Like it or not, Ronaldo is still the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to this Portugal team. The number of fans with his name on their shirt outnumber other players by about 10 to one, his name was roared with the volume of a goal when the line-ups were read out and they cheered his every touch in the warm-up. The cult of Ronaldo is alive and well.

But now that he’s 39 (the second-oldest player at the tournament behind his team-mate Pepe, who is the oldest player at any European Championship ever aged 41 and had an uncharacteristically quiet night as Czech Republic rarely ventured forward) and plays in the Saudi Pro League, could he still cut it at an international tournament?

Well, he was far more involved in the game than he was during the 2022 World Cup (when he was so ineffective he was dropped). He teed up a chance for Vitinha with a classy flick, he had a few chances himself, including a header that he shanked wide, and a shot on the turn and a free kick that were too close to the ‘keeper. He was also, quite clearly, the team’s leader and talisman.

— Tim Spiers

In a defensive display, the physically imposing Czech Republic soaked up Portuguese pressure for much of the contest played in the pouring rain at Leipzig.

Ivan Hasek, who only returned to manage his country for a second spell in January, set his team up in a conservative 5-3-2 formation against their opponents filled with a cast of stellar names.

Portugal had 408 passes before the break, the most in the first half at this tournament, in what resembled an attack-vs-defence training game. Martinez’s side also had eight corners in the first half but the steely Czech Republic held firm, frustrating their opponents.

Although Portugal dominated possession, they were never banging on the door and 61 minutes into the game, it was the Czech Republic who took a shock lead as Provod curled home a sumptuous strike from outside the box. It was a lovely moment for the Slavia Prague midfielder, who missed the last European Championship three years ago with a cruel anterior cruciate ligament injury and studied for an economics degree during his recovery.

In the end, Portugal’s equalizer came via a huge slice of luck as Czech Republic goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek parried the slippery ball onto the knee of centre-back Robin Hranac and into the net.

As the game drew to a close, the Czech Republic, who switched to a 5-4-1, grew tired and Portugal finally got their winner from Conceicao.

— Tom Burrows

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