Diogo Dalot was an unlikely hero in Prague where Portugal beat Czech Republic 4-0 in the UEFA Nations League. The Manchester United right-back opened the scoring in the 33rd minute before Bruno Fernandes doubled the advantage in added time.
Patrik Schick missed a penalty on the stroke of half time which proved a pivotal moment in the match. Dalot made it 3-0 in the 52nd minute before Diogo Jota added a fourth to complete the rout.
The victory takes Fernandor Santos’ side the top of Group 2 after Switzerland won 2-1 in Spain. The Seleção now turn their attention to a showdown against La Roja in Braga where a draw will be enough to advance to the UEFA Nations League finals.
PortuGOAL’s Matthew Marshall reports from Fortuna Arena.
Portugal assert their authority
Portugal monopolised possession in Prague and created an early chance, Ronaldo’s clever header releasing Rafael Leão who saw his shot blocked. Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva were linking up well down the right wing and frequently inviting Diogo Dalot to make it a threesome.
Crisitiano Ronaldo and Tomas Vaclik were involved in a heavy collision which saw the Portuguese superstar bleeding heavily from his nose.
Portugal’s full-backs were having problems stopping the hosts from wide positions. Mário Rui was impersonating Raphaël Guerreiro’s defensive effort against Germany, Vladimir Coufal enjoying plenty of opportunities to deliver the ball into the danger zone.
Jakub Brabec picked up an early injury and was replaced in the heart of defence by Ondrej Kudela.
Portugal created a great chance to open the scoring in the 24th minute. Leão’s lovely ball released Fernandes who decided against shooting, laying it on a plate for Ronaldo who couldn’t connect.
Czech Republic were having problems getting out of their own half before another Coufal cross was met by Antonin Barak who headed wide.
Dalot comes alive
The breakthrough finally came in the 33rd minute with a move instigated and completed by Diogo Dalot. The right-back surged forward and found Bruno Fernandes, Ronaldo unable to connect with his cross which eventually found Leão, the AC Milan winger picking out Dalot who squeezed the ball through Vaclik.
Diogo Costa was finally called into action when he diverted Alex Kral’s effort wide, but the hosts couldn’t maintain the pressure as Portugal resumed their dominance and turned on the style.
Added time action
Bruno Fernandes’ cross found Ronaldo who fired a difficult volley high and wide. Portugal’s persistence paid off however as they doubled their lead in added time, Mário Rui’s cross catching the Czech defenders asleep with Fernandes timing his run to perfection and converting from close range.
There was more action to come before the half-time whistle. A corner from the hosts took a deflection off Fernandes into Ronaldo’s raised hand, a penalty eventually awarded that Patrik Schick blazed over the bar.
Dalot at the double
Portugal started the second half like they started the first, dominating possession and probing for an opening which came in the 52nd minute. Dalot found himself infield, stepping nside Tomás Soucek and curling a precision left footed shot into the bottom corner.
Jaroslav Šilhavý attempted to turn the tide by introducing Adam Vlkanova, Vaclav Cerny and Petr Sevcik for Jaroslav Zeleny, Antonin Barak and Adam Hlozek. Fernando Santos reacted by replacing Bernardo Silva and Rafael Leão with Ricardo Horta and Diogo Jota.
The game was becoming a snooze fest with the result firmly beyond doubt, William Carvalho and Bruno Fernandes making way for João Palhinha and Matheus Nunes with 15 minutes remaining.
Portugal gave the travelling support more to cheer about in the 82nd minute when they scored a fourth goal. Ricardo Horta’s corner was headed to the back post by Ronaldo, Diogo Jota accepting the gift and steering the ball past a stranded Vaclik.
João Mário replaced Danilo which saw Palhinha slip into central defence, Ruben Nevers dragging his shot wide with the final chance of the game.
Full-backs steal the show after slow start
With João Cancelo suspended, Raphaël Guerreiro injured and Nuno Mendes on the bench, Santos started Diogo Dalot and Mário Rui in the full-back positions. Rui was making his first appearance in a Seleção shirt since November 2020, the 31-year-old earning his 12th cap.
Both players were shaky early on, Dalot lacking confidence and Rui struggling with his defensive duties. All of those doubts were quickly overshadowed in the 15 minute spell before the break when Dalot opened the scoring and Rui provided the cross for Bruno Fernandes’ goal.
Positive signs for Portugal
Portugal overcame the second choice full-back situation in style, particularly the three attacking players stationed behind Ronaldo. Fernandes’ combination play and interchanging with Bernardo Silva were causing the Czech Republic defenders a whole lot of problems in the first half.
Rafael Leão had his best performance for Portugal, particularly in the first half where he looked intent on making a mark. Rúben Neves is becoming a key player for Santos with a number of taller and more physical options available to complement his style.
Rúben Dias was back in the team after missing six matches, getting some valuable game time next to Danilo Pereira, a central defensive partnership we could be seeing a lot more of in Qatar.
Portugal’s strength in depth was highlighted by the options Santos brought off the bench. With no players booked in Prague, the seven players at risk of missing the match in Braga can all breathe easy.
Most Seleção supporters will know what happened the last time Portugal required a draw to progress, the debacle against Serbia hopefully firmly in the minds of Santos’ players as they attempt to finish the job against Spain.
FT Czech Republic 0-4 Portugal. Convincing win for the Seleção in Prague with Dalot scoring twice with Fernandes & Jota on target. Hosts never recovered from Schick's penalty miss on the stroke of half-time. Santos' side jump over Spain into top spot before the showdown in Braga. pic.twitter.com/anQBfdNKWs— Matthew Marshall (@noobzcorp) September 24, 2022
Czech Republic (3-4-3): Tomas Vaclik - David Zima, Jakub Brabec (Ondrej Kudela 22’), Vaclav Jemelka - Vladimir Coufal, Tomas Soucek (Jan Kuchta 77’), Alex Kral, Jaroslav Zeleny (Adam Vlkanova 64’) - Antonin Barak (Petr Sevcik 63’), Patrik Schick, Adam Hlozek (Vaclav Cerny 64’)
Unused substitutes: Jindrich Stanek, Jiri Pavlenka, Milan Havel, Lukas Kalvach, Stanislav Tecl
Head Coach: Jaroslav Šilhavý
Portugal (4-2-3-1): - Diogo Costa - Diogo Dalot, Rúben Dias, Danilo Pereira (João Mário 84’), Mário Rui - Rúben Neves, William Carvalho (João Palhinha 77’) - Bernardo Silva (Ricardo Horta 67’), Bruno Fernandes (Matheus Nunes (77’), Rafael Leão (Diogo Jota 67’) - Cristiano Ronaldo
Unused substitutes: Rui Patrício, José Sá, Tiago Djaló, Nuno Mendes, Vitinha, Pedro Neto, Gonçalo Ramos
Head Coach: Fernando Santos
[0-1] – Diogo Dalot 33’
[0-2] – Bruno Fernandes 45’+2
[0-3] – Diogo Dalot 52’
[0-4] – Diogo Jota 82’