Soccer-Conceicao to the rescue as Portugal snatch 2-1 win over Czechs


  • Football
  • Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group F - Portugal v Czech Republic - Leipzig Stadium, Leipzig, Germany - June 18, 2024 Portugal's Francisco Conceicao celebrates scoring their second goal with Bruno Fernandes REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) -Francisco Conceicao came off the bench to grab a predatory stoppage-time winner as Portugal kick-started their Euro 2024 campaign with an edgy 2-1 Group F win over a dogged but cautious Czech Republic side in a tight contest on Tuesday.

Conceicao, who was brought on in the 90th minute, pounced on a mistake by Robin Hranac to fire home from close range in the third minute of added time soon after Portugal were crestfallen when Diogo Jota's effort was ruled out by VAR for offside.

"He deserves it. He always works with one eye in front of the goal, he sniffs out goals," Portugal coach Roberto Martinez said of the 21-year-old scorer. "He was the fireworks we needed today."

The Czechs had stunned the Portuguese fans packed inside the Leipzig Stadium when they took the lead out of the blue in the 62nd minute as Lukas Provod's superb curling effort threatened to cause an almighty upset.

Yet unfortunate defender Hranac scored an own goal seven minutes later to set up a frantic finish that saw Portugal claim the three points to leave them level in the group with Turkey who beat Georgia 3-1 earlier on Tuesday.

With 41-year-old Pepe, who became the oldest player in Euros history, at centre back, and Cristiano Ronaldo, 39 and playing at a record sixth Euros, up front, Portugal banked on experience against a Czech side with the youngest squad in the tournament.

The match was meant to be a walk in the park for the highly fancied Portuguse, who came into the tournament on the back of a flawless qualifying campaign in which they won all 10 matches, scoring 36 goals and conceding twice.

But as is so often the way in major tournaments the script needed a hasty rewrite.

While Portugal predictably dominated the ball, with 70% possession, 19 shots and 13 corners, the workmanlike Czechs provided an infuriating obstacle for Martinez's side.

DISCIPLINED CZECHS

Portugal set up camp in Czech territory early on, but they came up against some fierce resistance as Ivan Hasek's disciplined side kept them mostly at arm's length.

For all their possession, Portugal's chances were limited. Rafael Leao was their most creative outlet with his jinking runs down the left flank, although one theatrical dive earned him a first-half booking.

Record breaker Ronaldo was predictably at the centre of most of Portugal's attacks, although a largely ineffective display will do little to quell the debate about whether he should still be starting for the national team.

He passed up their best chance of the first half when he was played through on goal by Bruno Fernandes only to be thwarted by Jindrich Stanek and had another shot beaten away by the keeper just before the break.

Had Ronaldo found the net he would have become the oldest scorer in the tournament's history, but it was not to be his night and shortly after his header was deflected over after the restart, Portugal were hit with a hammer blow.

Out of nowhere the Czechs worked the ball down the pitch and Vladimir Coufal fed Provod who curled a stunning finish beyond the reach of keeper Diogo Costa into the net.

The advantage, however, was short-lived as Portugal drew level with more than a little good fortune. A cross to the back post was headed towards goal by Nuno Mendes but Stanek's save ricocheted off the knee of Hranac into his own net.

Portugal thought they had snatched victory when Ronaldo headed against the post and substitute Jota was on hand to convert the rebound, but VAR swiftly ruled Ronaldo was a fraction offside.

It did not matter however as Hranac made a mess of his attempted clearance and Conceicao nipped in to score 111 seconds after coming on.

"Obviously we are disappointed to concede a goal this late in the game but we need to keep our heads high," Hasek said. "We need to get better because this was not a perfect game for us."

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris and Hugh Lawson)

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