18.06.2024 23:21 h

Conceicao snatches Portugal comeback win over Czechs

Youngster Francisco Conceicao snatched Portugal a last-gasp 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in their Euro 2024 Group F opener on Tuesday just minutes after coming off the bench.

The 21-year-old Porto winger capitalised from close range after the Czechs were unable to clear a cross, completing his team's comeback.

The Czechs went ahead against the run of play through Lukas Provod's fine strike from the edge of the box after the hour mark.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal did not shine but dug just deep enough to claim victory, with Robin Hranac's own goal pulling them level before Conceicao's dramatic winner.

Ronaldo, 39, playing at a record-extending sixth European Championship, was denied by Stanek on three occasions as Portugal constantly looked to find the competition's all-time top goalscorer.

The striker hit the post with the score tied and Diogo Jota nodded in the rebound but the goal was disallowed for offside against Ronaldo.

"We showed all our coolness and resilience," said Portugal midfielder Vitinha.

"We remained calm, got the draw and always believed until the end to get the win.

"Luckily we managed to do it with the help of the players who came on... we are truly a team."

Portugal coach Roberto Martinez selected 41-year-old defender Pepe, who became the oldest player in Euros history, beating the record set by Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly aged 40 in 2016, as part of a three centre-back defence.

Portugal won that tournament in 2016 to claim the trophy for the first time and captain Ronaldo said they deserve another, although they got off to a stuttering start in Germany.

In coach Ivan Hasek's first competitive game after taking over in January, the Czech Republic largely frustrated Martinez's side, who qualified unbeaten while scoring more goals than any other team.

Ronaldo sent an effort wide with his shoulder after Rafael Leao cut inside with menace early on, as the Portuguese controlled the ball.

Bruno Fernandes' deflected dipping effort had some Portugal fans out of their seats and Leao was inches away from connecting with a low cross from the Manchester United playmaker.

Czech goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek thwarted Ronaldo twice in the first half of his record 26th Euros appearance, but on both occasions the striker appeared marginally offside.

The Al Nassr hitman's brightest moment came with a clever backheel which played in Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Vitinha, but the Czech defence swarmed around him quickly and blocked his shot.

Debate over whether Ronaldo should still be a starter or not has rumbled on since the 2022 World Cup and at times Portugal looked short on ideas beyond slinging crosses in towards him.

Stanek comfortably saved a Ronaldo free-kick from distance before the Czechs made their breakthrough.

Slavia Prague midfielder Provod whipped a superb strike past Diogo Costa from the edge of the box after Portugal failed to fully clear a cross just past the hour mark.

However Portugal were quickly level when Hranac unfortunately turned the ball into his own net, after Stanek palmed Nuno Mendes' header straight at him from point-blank range.

Ronaldo and Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick finished as joint top scorers at Euro 2020 with five goals each but neither was at their lethal best in Leipzig.

Jota thought he had grabbed a last-gasp winner after Ronaldo's header bounced off the woodwork into his path, but VAR showed the veteran forward was offside.

It didn't matter for Martinez's men though after Conceicao came on to fire them to the three points, putting Portugal level with Turkey at the top of Group F.

"Of course it hurts extremely (badly), although nobody completely thought we would prevail today," Provod told Czech national television.

"The goals we conceded did not come after well put together attacks, but we have to acknowledge Portugal's quality. The (goals) came from the enormous pressure."