Football Features

Portugal 2-1 Czech Republic: Conceição spares A Seleção’s blushes on record-breaking evening

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 18 June 2024

Francisco Conceição came off the bench to inspire Portugal in their Euro 2024 opening-round win over the Czech Republic this evening.

Roberto Martínez’s men emerged as 2-1 winners, leaving them level on points with Turkey, who earlier in the day brushed Georgia aside, running out 3-1 victors.

The heavily favoured Portuguese were dominant throughout in Leipzig, enjoying 73.6% possession, and even had a late Diogo Jota goal ruled offside before the 21-year-old Conceição netted his 92nd-minute winner.

Conceição’s goal, 111 seconds after coming on as a substitute, is the fastest such goal since Ferran Torres for Spain against Slovakia in June 2021 (41 seconds). Furthermore, he is the first bench player to score for Portugal at the Euros since Éder in the 2016 final.

From a personal standpoint, it comes almost 24 years after father Sérgio’s hat-trick ensured a victory against Germany in the Euro 2000, and Francisco’s strike equally proved decisive.

His entire career is still ahead of him, which cannot be said for Pepe (41y 113d) and Cristiano Ronaldo (39y 134d), the two oldest outfield players to ever appear at the European Championship finals.

Ronaldo also became the first player to feature in as many as six different editions of the UEFA European Championship finals (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, and 2024) while equalling the record for the most consecutive appearances made for a nation, featuring in all 18 of Portugal’s matches in the competition since the Euro 2008 quarter-final (level with Leonardo Bonucci for Italy between 2012 and 2021).

Before kickoff, Czech Republic head coach Ivan Hašek spoke about dealing with the 39-year-old. “We are definitely not going to mark him with one player, but we are fully aware that he may punish us if we give him any space to turn around with the ball and shoot,” he said.

Even though he has long entered the twilight years of his playing career, world football’s record international goalscorer is showing no signs of letting up, meaning dealing with him is still easier said than done.

Spearheading their attack, with A Seleção das Quinas lining up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, deviating from Martinez’s usual recent utilisation of a back-four, it’s fair to say Portugal is no longer playing for him but with him. Ronaldo had the game’s first real opportunity when his attempted diving header sailed past Jindřich Staněk’s goal.

It was all Portugal, with 36.5% of the action taking place in the Czech Republic third before half-time, but they couldn’t make their territorial domination count. That being said, Staněk’s three crucial saves ensured this would be the first Euro 2024 match to remain scoreless at the break.

Before the hour mark, Portugal had 14 attempts, with four on target. Czech Republic hardly troubled Diogo Costa, not forcing him to make a single save, before Lukáš Provod’s fabulous strike from distance put the underdogs into a surprise lead. His effort was already the 11th from outside the penalty area at Euro 2024, just one fewer than the entirety of the group stages at Euro 2020 (12).

“We’ve seen some wonderful goals at this tournament already, and this is another,” Danny Murphy said on BBC commentary. “It was a nice set-up, with beautiful technique. He whips it to the far corner and gives the keeper no chance. A superb finish. It was very similar to the first Romania goal yesterday.”

It was a lead that only lasted for seven minutes. Nuno Mendes initially nodded the ball down into a dangerous area right in front of goal, and Staněk’s parry was directed straight onto teammate Robin Hranáč. The ball rebounded off him into the back of the net. A helpful strike which ended Portugal’s run of 204 minutes without a goal in the European Championship, their longest since going 202 minutes without scoring from June 14, 2016, to June 22, 2016.