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Diogo Jota scores on return from injury as Kelleher ends Szoboszlai record

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Diogo Jota marked his first Game back since injury with a goal for Portugal, while Caoimhin Kelleher helped end a 14-Game unbeaten for Dominik Szoboszlai.

Jota missed the end of the season with Liverpool after picking up a hip injury in the 3-1 win at Fulham in April, going unused in Jurgen Klopp‘s final Game.

But having regained full fitness, the striker is part of the Portugal squad preparing for this summer’s European Championship.

That kicked off with a friendly against Finland on Tuesday night, with Jota starting up front in a rotated side in Lisbon.

He marked it with a goal, firing home from the spot after Francisco Conceicao was brought down in the penalty area, before being replaced by Goncalo Ramos as one of five half-time changes.

Portugal went on to win 4-2, with Bruno Fernandes scoring twice either side of a Teemu Pukki brace to add to Ruben Dias’ headed opener.

Speaking after the Game, manager Roberto Martinez praised Jota’s performance and suggested that he had thrown his hat in the ring for a starting spot in Germany.

“All the players have different paths. Jota worked very well, Pedro Neto too and they are perfect to help the team,” Martinez said.

“For us it is important to use all the players in these three special matches and it was very positive to see these two players play 45 minutes, to open up comPetitiveness in the locker room.”

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, November 15, 2020: Republic of Ireland's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the pre-match warm-up before the UEFA Nations League Group Stage League B Group 4 match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium. Wales won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Portugal have two more warmup friendlies against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland before Group F clashes with Czechia, Turkiye and Georgia.

The Republic of Ireland will head into that friendly in Aveiro buoyed by victory of their own, with Kelleher starting vs. Hungary on Tuesday.

Kelleher came up against a Liverpool team-mate in Hungary captain Szoboszlai, producing five saves in the 2-1 win, with the Irish Independent awarding him a seven-out-of-10 rating.

For Szoboszlai, it was a difficult night that saw a 14-game unbeaten run – believed to be the longest in international football – end in frustrating circumstances, with Troy Parrott netting the winner in stoppage time.

2PHC77K Hungary's Dominik Szoboszlai reacts during the Euro 2024 group G qualifying soccer match between Hungary and Bulgaria at the Puskas Arena stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

Szoboszlai had not experienced defeat since taking the captain’s armband for his country in 2022, with nine wins and five draws, and losing to Ireland was not wholly expected.

Speaking to Nemzeti Sport after the game, Hungary manager Marco Rossi admitted Liverpool’s No. 8 had been “average,” with “unexpected mistakes” marring his game.

“This time his game was average, Sallai Roland had a better day this time,” Rossi explained.

“Of course, he had good solutions, as always, but he also made unexpected mistakes that are not characteristic of him – but mistakes happen in the life of every footballer.

“The team’s attitude cannot be criticised if we put the match in context, after 14 unbeaten matches I can only repeat myself: we are not a top team comparable to England or Germany.

“We are in the middle of a process, we are on the right track.”

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