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Portugal face Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum after win over Czech Republic

Portugal face Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum after win over Czech Republic

At the final whistle Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated wildly with the match-winner Francisco Conceicao. And who could blame him? The 21-year-old had come on and scored the 92nd-minute goal to finally earn the points for Portugal, ripping off his shirt and roaring in delight.

In what is becoming a theme of this European Championship it was another key goal struck by a young player. It was also Conceicao’s first goal in his first competitive appearance with his first touch. Just 111 seconds after he was introduced.

The cameras and the attention, though, were on Ronaldo. But, then, they are always on Ronaldo. Even so that celebration surely also came with a pang of relief. If Portugal had not won, the questions would have begun as to whether Ronaldo is now actually a help or a hindrance to this richly talented Portugal side.

Instead coach Roberto Martinez was able to purr about the comeback and the collective. “We showed heart and we played with discipline,” he said of one of the tournament’s favourites. He would not have got away with that if Portugal had not won especially with striker Goncalo Ramos staying on the bench as Ronaldo proved wasteful.

Despite that talent, despite a stellar midfield of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Vitinha – who may have struggled at Wolves but has thrived at Paris St-Germain – they still appear to defer far too much to Ronaldo.

There was a flurry of substitutions, with all five used by Martinez as he desperately tried to turn around the contest, after the Czechs had taken a shock lead. But Ronaldo stayed on. His involvement in the goal? It was to run and celebrate in the face of Czech goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek who he had failed to beat.

Instead the goal came from the directness and determination of Wolves winger Pedro Neto who forced his way down the left and crossed. Even then there was fortune – as there was fortune in the own goal equaliser – with Robin Hranac cutting it out only for the ball to run to Conceicao who slammed it home. It was horrible for Hranac who had inadvertently scored Portugal’s first goal as Stanek had pushed Nuno Mendes’s header against him from close-range.

The fact that Ronaldo is even playing, of course, never mind captaining Portugal and leading their attack is extraordinary. This was the 39-year-old’s 11th major tournament, earning an astonishing 208th cap. Those are incredible, record numbers.

To put that into context two members of the Portugal squad – Antonio Silva and Joao Neves – were born after he made his international debut. That was in 2003 when Conceicao had just been born – in December 2002 – and in the year that his father, Sergio, played his last game for Portugal.

The name Conceicao is writ large in Portugal football. Sergio earned 56 caps for his country, stretched over seven years, and until this month he had coached Porto for the same length of time. His son, Francisco, is also a winger and has signed for Porto, only to see his father leave, after a spell at Ajax.

Furthermore, his selection caused controversy in Portugal with Martinez having defended it at the announcement.

“Francisco is the ultimate example of earning it,” he said after the last-gasp win. “He deserves to be here and he has been doing what he has been doing for the past four months in his club team.”

Francisco Conceicao - Super-sub Conceicao scores Portugal's stoppage-time winner against Czechs at Euro 2024 – reaction
Conceicao reels away in celebration after scoring the winner in Leipzig - Reuters/Lisi Niesner

Francisco was also only 18 months old when Ronaldo scored his first tournament goal, at Euro 2024, when he became the youngest player to do so. Ronaldo kicked off here with Turkey’s Arda Guler having just taken his record as the youngest ever scorer at a Euros, with his brilliant goal against Georgia, claimed with him aged 19 years and 114 days (14 days younger than Ronaldo was in 2004).

And Ronaldo seemed determined to score again; determined to add to his record tally of 130 goals for Portugal.

It is far too harsh to say he has turned into something of a tribute act since his move to the Saudi Pro-League but it is curious how so many accomplished team-mates appear to be so determined to tee him up when it is not always the best option.

They found him for both of Portugal’s best chances in the first-half and he failed to take either. For the first, he was sent clear by Fernandes with a wonderfully perceptive pass that cut out the Czech defence. Ronaldo should have scored but his shot was smothered by Stanek. Then, on half-time, he was picked out again in the penalty area only for his drive on the turn to be beaten out by the goalkeeper.

He still finds the chances but does it stifle some of Portugal’s attacking play? Maybe that is sacrilege to even debate but perhaps the most illuminating moment came just before the Czechs scored. A free-kick was earned, centrally, 25 yards out, and Ronaldo’s name rang out. The camera phones were ready, he even checked himself on the big screens – and he planted the ball straight into the arms of Stanek.

Then the Czechs broke with Pepe – at 41 years and 113 days, the oldest player to feature at a Euros, heading a cross straight to Vladimir Coufal who teed up Lukas Provod. His first-time shot swept into the net. Portugal were stunned but clawed their way back.

They deserved to win but does Ronaldo deserve to keep his place?


Portugal vs Czech Republic: As it happened . . .


10:22 PM BST

Some pleasing stats (if you’re Portuguese)

  • Portugal completed 368 passes in the first half, their most in a single 45 minutes at the European Championship.

  • Vitinha made 20 line-breaking passes. Only Germany’s Toni Kroos (30 vs Scotland) made more in the first round of matches.


09:58 PM BST

The winning goal

Conceicao latches onto the loose ball to win it for Portugal.

Conceicao shoots first time to beat Stanek in the Czech goal
Conceicao shoots first time to beat Stanek in the Czech goal - Reuters/Karina Hessland

09:56 PM BST

That result shows

Just how important/good that Portugal bench is. They have a lots of fine players who cannot make the starting XI, which means they have several brilliant options to come on and change things if needed. And that’s exactly what happened this evening.


09:54 PM BST

FULL-TIME: Portugal 2 Czech Republic 1

Portugal have (just) got the job done. They were far from incisive and impressive, but kept probing away and the late subs, Neto and Conceicao, made the difference in the dying minutes.


09:51 PM BST

GOAL!

Portugal 2 Czech Republic 1

This one will stand as on his competitive debut, the sub, Francisco Conceicao fires Portugal into the lead. His fellow sub Neto is direct on the left before firing in a low cross to the near post, the ball comes off a Czech defender falling to Conceicao who fires past Stanek with his left peg.


09:48 PM BST

Disallowed goal for Portugal

Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

The first real A*-quality ball from Portugal finds the head of Ronaldo, and, him being one of the finest players with his head of all time, heads the ball goalwards. It looks for all the world as though its in, but it comes off the right post. Jota, off the bench, is the quickest to react and his header, this time, finds the back of the net.

JOY FOR PORTUGAL...

UNTIL... it’s checked for a possible offside. It’s a quick decision and the replay shows that at least three inches of Ronaldo’s shoulder was, indeed, offside...slightly harsh, but, according to letter of the law, correct.


09:43 PM BST

84 mins: Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

Czech Republic are attacking more now than at any point in the game - tired Portuguese legs out there?


09:41 PM BST

81 mins: Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

The Czechs create possibly the best chance of the match as they attack down the right. They pull the ball back into the middle where it finds a free Sevcik , he takes possibly a touch too many but can still get a shot in that is well blocked. It then comes to Soucek who betrays his tiredness with a shot that goes well wide. What Portugal would give for a chance like that.


09:38 PM BST

79 mins: Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

Portugal have looked fairly limp in attack, they’ve lacked real cutting edge in the final third. But, to be fair to them, the Czechs have defended solidly.


09:37 PM BST

75 mins: Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

It’s as you were, Portugal with more of the possession searching for a goal, as I type Vitinha has a go from 30 yards out. This time Stenek saves well, which in these conditions is no mean feat, the ball fizzing off the wet surface.


09:35 PM BST

Czech fans look away now

Stenek flaps at the ball pushing it onto the shin of his own defender Hranac
Stanek flaps at the ball pushing it onto the shin of his own defender Hranac - Reuters/Karina Hessland
Portugal players cannot believe their luck as they are back on level terms
Portugal players cannot believe their luck as they are back on level terms - Reuters/Lisi Niesner

09:27 PM BST

GOAL!

Portugal 1 Czech Republic 1

The pressure has finally told as the Czechs score an own goal.

That was the slice of fortune the Portuguese needed as Vitinha stands the ball up  to the back post where it finds the head of Nuno Mendes. Stanek, in the Czech goal, tries to deal with the ball into the six-yard box, but all he succeeds in doing is flapping at it and pushing it against the shin of his own defender Robin Hranac, whose touch deflects the ball into the back of the net. Oh dear...


09:26 PM BST

64 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 1

Portugal are in possession and it’s no shock at all to see eight Czechs in two lines between them and the goal.


09:24 PM BST

64 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 1

Now Portugal have up the ante and intensity.

For all their possession they haven’t created much and Stanek hasn’t had many saves to make. Now we’ll see what they’re made of. They need to move the ball quicker and search for the defence-splitting pass sooner. It’s too ‘after you Claude’ from them at the moment.


09:20 PM BST

GOAL!

Portugal 0 Czech Republic 1

It’s against the run of play and it’s another stunner!

The ball is initially cleared by Portugal but Czech regain possession, play it inside and Provod has a go from 25 yards letting fly right into the bottom righthand corner of the net, giving Costa no chance in the Portugal goal.


09:19 PM BST

57 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Good chance for Bernardo who is free on the right side of the box, but rather than have a dig, the Man City man plays a fairly limp, anemic ball across the box and it’s easy to defend. Had that been on his left you suspect he’d have let fly.


09:17 PM BST

Czech Republic are defending well

Soucek sees to the threat of Vitinha
Soucek sees to the threat of Vitinha - Reuters/John Sibley

09:16 PM BST

56 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Free-kick for Portugal after some heavy-handed stuff on, yep, you’ve guessed it, Ronaldo.

It’s the main man who will take it, and to be fair to him, having done that power Tory MP pose, he gets the ball over the wall, but into the grateful arms of Stanek in the Czech goal.


09:13 PM BST

54 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

That’s more like it, after some patient build-up on the right Portugal create the overlap that gets them in behind the Czech backline and gives Dias the time to deliver a find cross that Ronaldo nearly gets on the end of. More good defending from the underdogs.


09:10 PM BST

52 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

The rain is still teeming down in Leizig. Not the easiest conditions to play in.


09:08 PM BST

50 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

A rare foray forward for the Czechs ends with a mightily poor cross from the left from Schick, whose lack of game time is perhaps showing. That ball shouted ‘rust’.


09:06 PM BST

48 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Fernandes plays in Bernardo in the inside-right channel and he earns a corner. But once again the set piece is instantly forgettable. That been a theme for the Portuguese tonight.


09:05 PM BST

47 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

First chance of the half, no shock, goes to Portugal via the left boot of Dalot. The Man Utd player was fairly anonymous in the first 45 but has already made his presence felt in the second and he cuts inside from the right and shoots just over.


09:02 PM BST

45 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

They’re back under way in Leipzig. If Portugal haven’t scored within the next 20 minutes then expect changes, with all the firepower they have on the bench.


08:48 PM BST

HALF-TIME: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

No shock to see it be goalless in Leipzig. For all the possession Portugal have had they’ve looked toothless in attack, they’ve been a bit slow and laboured in attack.

The Czechs have defended well but will tire as the match goes on.

It’s the first match of the tournament that’s 0-0 at the break.


08:46 PM BST

44 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Another corner for Portugal. They’ve created nothing from the previous six and in a bid to change tack they go short this time and it almost pays dividends. The ball ultimately comes to Ronaldo who turns and takes a shot with his left that is well saved by Stanek. It looked offside, however, not that it matters.


08:44 PM BST

41 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

The Czechs will be more than happy to go in at 0-0. They’ve defended well and Portugal have been too laborious in attack.


08:41 PM BST

38 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

More than a hint of a chance for the Czechs as Coufal is on the overlap and gets in a fine cross that Dias deals with brilliantly with a defensive header.

The ball is quickly moved upfield by Portugal and Leao is driving into the box when he falls under what looks like a challenge from Soucek. The referee is quick to brandish a yellow and it’s for the Portuguese attacker rather than the Czech defender - and the replay shows why, it was a clear dive. When done the man in the middle, Marco Guida.


08:38 PM BST

36 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Soucek is down for the Czechs. It would be a huge blow for them if he cannot stay on the pitch. Luckily, he gets up, albeit gingerly.


08:35 PM BST

33 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal are now passing with great speed and purpose and looking more threatening as a result. The Czechs are defending well but the more this continues the harder it will be for them to keep the favourites out. They need an outlet which they don’t have, it’s been defence vs attack for most of this half.


08:33 PM BST

29 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Still Portugal with all the ball, they are passing sideways and not threatening at all UNTIL Fernandes threads through a peach of a pass that plays in Ronaldo. His first-time shot is well saved by Stanek, but that was more like it from the favourites. A replay suggests that, had it gone in, it would have been ruled out as Ronnie was more than likely offside.


08:29 PM BST

27 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal have their sixth corner and much like the previous five nothing is created from it. To be fair to Portugal, though, the Czechs are well organised and disciplined at the back.


08:28 PM BST

25 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal’s best attack by a mile and it’s come on the counter (there’s a lesson in there). The Czechs make a rare foray up field and lose the ball, the Portuguese move at pace (having been pedestrian for most of the match) and have an overlap which they use well as Fernandes tries to play in Leao in at the back post. It’s a fine low ball that just evades the AC Milan man. That’s more like it, played at pace and with purpose.


08:26 PM BST

24 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

It’s Fernandes’s turn to have a pop from distance and, to be fair to him, it’s not a bad attempt as it loops just over the bar. It took a deflection on the way and they’ll have another corner. Once again they cannot capitalise on the set-piece and it remains 0-0.

The Czechs will be happy with how the game’s gone so far. They’ve not really been tested, for all the possession the Portuguese have had.


08:23 PM BST

22 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Better from Portugal. They are patient on the left before switching the play inside. It comes to Vitinha and his shot is deflected from outside the box. From the resulting corner the Czechs clear the danger.


08:21 PM BST

20 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal have had 74 per cent possession so far and created nothing with it.


08:20 PM BST

A storm brewing?

There is a lot of complaining to the Italian referee Marco Guida from Cristiano Ronaldo. He claimed he was first fouled by Robin Hranac and then whacked in the face by Tomas Soucek. Neither happened. But as the rain comes down, part two of a storm that gripped Leipzig earlier, Portugal are definitely on top. So far their coach Roberto Martinez has decided against wearing a raincoat but, in his suit, he is gradually looking more and more like Rishi Sunak at that podium outside Number 10 Downing Street. That rain, by the way, is beginning to swirl into the press tribune and I am fearing for my laptop.


08:18 PM BST

16 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal seeing a lot of the ball but not doing much with it. The Czech backline aren’t being moved around, the Portuguese passing is too laboured and it’s all too easy for the underdogs. As I type that Nuno Mendes has a go from 30 yards and it goes high, wide and not so handsome. That sort of sums up the match so far, Portugal are all bark and no bite.


08:16 PM BST

Ronaldo’s first chance

He wasn't able to get the header on target
He wasn't able to get the header on target - Shutterstock

08:14 PM BST

11 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal very much in control at the moment, but no real chances created and the Czech defence looks comfortable at the moment.


08:10 PM BST

9 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

First real chance of the game goes the way of Portugal and, of course, Ronaldo. The ball comes in from the left and the captain get in front of his man and a header in. The attempt, however, goes wide and had it been on target wouldn’t have troubled the keeper. Still, promising signs for the favourites.


08:08 PM BST

8 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Czechs have a bit of the ball, it’s all in their own half, though, and it’s clear to see that Portugal aren’t overly keen to prees high.


08:07 PM BST

6 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

First corner of the match goes to Portugal - can they create something from this?

The short answer is: ‘Nope’. The ball goes deep and is easily dealt with by the Czechs. But Portugal are the team on the front foot, as expected.


08:04 PM BST

4 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Portugal have had two bits of joy on the left, first with Bernardo and second with Fernandes, but on both occasions there was no one in the middle to get on the end of two none-too-shabby crosses.


08:03 PM BST

2 mins: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

Positive start from the Czech, they attack down the right and it looks promising until Coufal over hits a pass and it goes out for a goal kick.

The underdogs need to start on the front foot if they are to have a chance tonight, and, so far (early days yet, I know),  they have.


08:00 PM BST

1 min: Portugal 0 Czech Republic 0

They’re under way in Leipzig, Portugal are in their traditional red which means the Czechs are in their away white.


07:58 PM BST

National anthem time

The Czechs go first. It’s a slow burner, that gets more passionate as it goes on, 6.5/10. Then it’s the turn of the Portuguese, this one is more operatic and sung with more gusto by the players, 8/10.

So Portugal win in the national tune stakes.


07:55 PM BST

The teams are out on the pitch

And we’re moments away from kick-off in the final game of the first round of matches.


07:52 PM BST

‘Ronaldo has to accept he cannot play 90 minutes every game’

Alan Shearer on the BBC speaking about the Portuguese talisman...

‘If he doesn’t then that will be damaging to Portugal’s hopes of winning this tournament’


07:46 PM BST

Golden oldies

No creaking bones on these two at least not until the morning...


07:43 PM BST

Let the oldies do the work

The Portugal warm-up includes the customary ‘rondos’ – the boxes – with players in the middle attempting to cut out passes from those in a circle around them. Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe – combined age of 80 (39 and 41 respectively) – have just been put in the middle together. Seems a bit unfair that one. Ronaldo’s name got the biggest cheer, inevitably, when the teams were read out although there were a few boos from the Czech fans. The stadium is a sea of red. Both teams favour that colour but there are certainly more Portuguese inside this 40,000-seat arena.


07:36 PM BST

Ronaldo will become the first player to appear in six European Championships

But that’s not the only record he could break tonight...

Since making his debut in 2004, he has scored at every Euros he has played in and would continue that run with a goal at this tournament. He could also become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship.

He is also hoping to join former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas by captaining his side to two Euros wins.

ROnaldo
A round of applause for Ronaldo who will play in his sixth Euros tonight - Shutterstock /Miguel A Lopes

07:29 PM BST

This side is better than the 2016 winners

A lot of their spine, their core talent are in the 26-29 age bracket. Behing players such as Ruben Dias, Joao Palhinha, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, there are Goncalo Inacio, Antonio Silva and Joao Neves.

And while the big beat Ronaldo may well be starting and the captain, it is through Bruno Fernandes that much of the play goes through. And with an assisting cast of Bernardo, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Diogo Jota, oh, and Ronaldo, it’s not hard to see why they’re are fancied.

Bruno Fernandes is now Portugal's main man
Bruno Fernandes is now Portugal's main man - Getty Images/Pedro Loureiro

07:20 PM BST

No shock to see that Portugal are one of the favourites

They were the only team to win all their qualifying games and they scored more goals than any other side (36) while boasting the best defensive record after conceding twice.

It would be a huge surprise if the Czechs, who won four of their eight qualifiers with two of those wins coming against the Faroe Islands, could muster a shock result.

Portugal fans
Portugal fans hope their side can go all the way in Germany - Getty Images/Alex Livesey

07:15 PM BST

Of course he’s in the starting XI

The teams have been named and, of course, it is no surprise to see Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portugal starting line-up and captaining his country. Still, it is remarkable to think the 39-year-old first played in the European Championship in 2004. He has been expertly managed by Portugal coach Roberto Martinez when many thought his time in international football was coming to an end after his poor performances at the last World Cup. Meanwhile the noise is building up nicely inside the stadium with the Portugal fans in full force.


07:11 PM BST

Who do you think is going to win?

Let us know here.


07:04 PM BST

The two XIs – Ronaldo starts

PORTUGAL XI TO FACE CZECH REPUBLIC: Costa, Dias, Pepe, Nuno Mendes, Dalot, Bruno Fernandes, Vitinha, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Ronaldo, Leao. Subs: Rui Patricio, Nelson Semedo, Joao Palhinha, Goncalo Ramos, Joao Felix, Jose Sa, Danilo Pereira, Inacio, Joao Neves, Matheus Luiz, Ruben Neves, Jota, Silva, Pedro Neto, Francisco Conceicao.

CZECH REPUBLIC XI TO FACE PORTUGAL: Stanek, Hranac, Krejci, Holes, Soucek, Coufal, Provod, Sulc, Doudera, Schick, Kuchta. Subs: Zima, Vitik, Barak, Sevcik, Hlozek, Chytil, David Jurasek, Kovar, Cerny, Chory, Lingr, Cerv, Jaros, Vlcek, Matej Jurasek.

Referee: Marco Guida (Italy)


07:00 PM BST

Turkey have just beaten Georgia 3-1

For all the latest reaction please go here.


06:53 PM BST

Ronaldo time?

It’s Portugal’s first match of the Euros which means one thing: It’s Cristiano Ronaldo time.

As ever, not that he’ll mind, the side’s record goalscorer will likely be the focus of attention to see (i) whether, after more than a year in the footballing backwater of Saudi Arabia (let’s face it, that’s still what it is...), he is still a match-winner at the highest level, and, (ii) whether he can inspire a talented squad to their second triumph in the competition, and, (iii) whether he’ll start (unlikely he won’t).

Such is the strength in depth of Portugal that it may come as a slight surprise to see someone plying their trade in front of small crowds and against middle-of-the-road defenders a likely starter. But it’s CR7 (as all the kids call him...) we’re talking about here and Roberto Martinez may well have decided that keeping him in the starting XI makes his job a lot easier/is the path of least resistance.

The manager has rubbished suggestions that Ronaldo’s goalscoring exploits in the Middle East (51 goals in 50 games for Al-Nassr last season) were of questionable value, and said his place in the squad was more than justified.

“Cristiano is in the national team on merit. Nobody gets into the national team just by having a name,” Martinez said.

“For us he is a goalscorer, someone who can make that final move, someone who can really stretch defenders, really open spaces. Obviously, over the years Cristiano has changed his way of playing slightly, but I can only say that Cristiano is in the national team on merit and the numbers are there to back that up.”

The last time most of us saw Ronaldo was at the World Cup 18 months ago. He started that tournament by hogging the limelight thanks to his interview with his No.1 fanboy Piers Morgan, and ended it starting on the bench for the two knockout matches against Switzerland and Morocco.

Obviously since then he’s forced his way back into the starting XI (the sight of him sulking on the subs bench seemingly doesn’t appeal to Martinez) and was the side’s leading scorer in the qualifiers with 10 goals. And centre back Ruben Dias is glad he’s back.

“I would say he represents inspiration, he represents that everything is possible, he represents that you can dream and you can achieve it,” the Man City man said.

“It’s obviously a pleasure to have him with us in this moment of his career. He represents to us that he really wants to win again and he’s our captain and obviously we follow him to the end.”

Stay here to find out how Ronaldo and Portugal do, for all the team news and action, with kick-off set for 8pm.