Skip to Content

The Czech Republic Was Undone By Its Own Center Back

Robin Hranac of Czechia concedes an own goal, the first goal for Portugal, as cze during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match between Portugal and Czechia at Football Stadium Leipzig on June 18, 2024 in Leipzig, Germany.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Of all the positions in soccer, center back might be the least likely to cause a commotion. Really, that's the best anyone playing the position can hope for: If a viewer does not register a center back's play in a match, it probably means that they were not victimized, or that they didn't commit a match-losing error. In this way, good center backs ply their trade in relative anonymity, with only certain stellar defenders reaching true household name status. What a center back definitely does not want is to become a talking point for his mistakes, which is the unfortunate situation that 24-year-old Czech defender Robin Hranac finds himself in after his country's 2-1 defeat to Portugal in its Euro 2024 opener.

It's unfair to put the entirety of the blame for Czech Republic's loss on one man, but it's also not that unfair. Both Portugal goals came as a result of a mistake from Hranac, and though neither mistake was egregious, and one was in fact massively unlucky, it stands to reason that if he had simply played an anonymous game, the Czechs might have just taken three surprising points from the Group F favorites.

Let's set the scene: As expected in a matchup between a tournament near-favorite and a merely solid team, Portugal controlled a lot of the possession early on, and had the majority of the chances. In this period, which we can call roughly the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second, the Czech defense bent but didn't shatter, allowing Portugal to have dangerous plays but never conceding.

A big part of this is because Portugal's attacking core had a horrid time in front of goal. Cristiano Ronaldo is not exactly washed, but he's nowhere near his peak form, and his presence at the center striker position almost did Portugal more harm than good. In the 62 minutes before the opening goal, Ronaldo had five shots, and no goals. That's a decidedly un-Ronaldo-like conversion rate, though not so much at his age of 39. A couple of the misses were particularly uncharacteristic:

Portugal's other attackers followed the lead of the man that they bend to accommodate: for that opening hour and two minutes, the Portuguese side had 14 shots, to only one for the Czech's, and yet could not open the scoring. In fact, it was the second Czech shot that finally did the deed in the 62nd minute, as Lukas Provod found the ball at his feet outside the box and uncorked a perfect far-post curler reminiscent of Romania's opener on Monday, nudging past Portuguese goalie Diogo Costa and into the net.

Unfortunately, we must return to Hranac now. Seven minutes after Provod's wonderstrike, Paris Saint Germain's Vitinha sent a speculative ball into the box. Nuno Mendes was able to knock it onto Jindrich Stanek's hands, and the goalie's half-save ricocheted off of Hranac's shin and into the back of the net for the equalizer:

In fairness, it really was just bad luck that this goal happened at all, and Hranac couldn't have possibly expected the ball to rocket off of his leg and in. It happens, and if that had been it, then no one would need to note his impact on this game. The second Portugal goal, though ... that was less excusable. After the Czech Republic held fast against more Portuguese possession that went nowhere—in the time between the first and second Portugal goals, the Iberians had 69 percent of the possession, but only mustered four shots, none particularly dangerous—a pair of substitutes from Portugal manager Roberto Martinez changed the scoreline, though not in isolation.

Wolverhampton winger Pedro Neto grabbed onto a long ball near the sideline in the 91st minute, and was able to shake his defender with an abrupt stop before driving towards the box. He then hit a low cross towards the center which eventually landed at the foot of Francisco Conceição, the 21-year-old Porto winger, who was able to hit it into the goal and secure the three points for Portugal. The only issue is that, on the way to Conceição, Hranac had a golden chance to block the low cross. He reacted a bit too slowly to simply clear the ball, and instead tried to close his legs and block it with his shins. The ball pinged off his legs and went straight through to Conceição, who made no mistake with the winner:

To be a professional athlete at the level that Hranac is at, starting in the Euros for a pretty decent side, a player has to have a short memory. The next game, against fellow first-game losers Georgia, will show whether Hranac has one of those, because this opener was a match to forget for the Viktoria Plzen center back. It's not right to say that the Czech Republic deserved to win this match; Portugal really did control most of the game, and with slightly better finishing or a slightly less past-his-prime striker in the center, the Portuguese would have won rather comfortably.

That only makes Hranac's mistakes more painful, though; this game was there for the taking for the Czechs, and now they will have to regroup and rally around their defender in order to salvage a tournament that became a lot harder thanks to two mistakes that could happen to anyone. That they happened to Hranac is tough, but teams have to be perfect top-to-bottom to pull off upsets of this caliber. The Czechs will have to hope that they can avoid such errors going forward, or this match might end up being a harbinger of rough times ahead.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter