Slovenia forward Šeško misses two chances to end Euro 2024 for Ronaldo’s Portugal

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Not once, but twice, Slovenia striker Benjamin Šeško had the chance to score and send Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo home from the European Championship on Monday.

An emerging star aged 21, Šeško wasn’t able to finish off the kind of chance that 39-year-old Ronaldo has feasted on throughout his great career.

Twice Šeško had one-on-one chances to beat Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa — in the second half, then in the second period of extra time — of a 0-0 draw. Slovenia ultimately lost 3-0 in a penalty shootout.

For now Šeško’s tally remains 11 goals in his national-team career. Ronaldo will get the chance to add to his men’s international record 130 goals when he plays in the quarterfinals against France on Friday.

“I am his biggest supporter and I have nothing but respect for him,” Slovenia coach Matjaž Kek said of his young star. “I think his career will be exceptional.”

That exceptional talent made Šeško a transfer target for Arsenal in recent weeks. The pursuit ended on the eve of Euro 2024 when he extended his contract with Germany club Leipzig.

Before moving to Leipzig in a 24 million euros deal ($25.8 million), the basketball-loving Slovenian was at its sibling club, Salzburg, at the same time as Erling Haaland.

Their similar physique as teenagers sparked comparisons Šeško still tries to play down as Haaland developed into arguably the most feared forward in Europe at Manchester City.

“I already said that I’m my own player,” Šeško said last September. “The only thing that we have kind of similar is, of course, height. And also, we’re both fast, but in general we have a different style of playing.”

UEFA clocked Šeško as the fastest runner at Euro 2024 — at 35.9 kph (22.3 mph) — and that speed seemed likely to be decisive Monday.

A foot race with the 41-year-old Portugal defender Pepe had only one winner when Šeško bore down on goal in the 62nd minute. His left-foot shot was squibbed weakly wide of Costa’s goal and he shouted an expletive toward the skies,

When Pepe spilled the ball into Šeško’s stride in the 115th minute, the game seemed on the verge of being settled. But a powerful and accurate right-foot shot was saved by the goalkeeper’s outstretched boot.

“I tried to read his body language,” Costa said later after being voted player of the game, “and thankfully I managed to help the team.”

By staying at Leipzig, Šeško should see more game time in the Champions League next season.

He was a starter in the Champions League this season only after starting to score regularly in the Bundesliga, by the time Leipzig met Real Madrid in the round of 16. Leipzig was edged out of the competition on a 2-1 aggregate score against the eventual champion.

Šeško surged on, scoring in each of Leipzig’s last seven Bundesliga games to end with 14 in 31.

Only Jude Bellingham, in a standout debut for Madrid, scored more goals as a player aged under 21 in a top European league this season.

Bellingham, however, has scored two crucial goals at Euro 2024 and that is a big reason why England is in the quarterfinals.

Šeško and Slovenia, on their current upward trajectory, should be back in 2028.


AP Euro 2024:

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