Portugal 4-1 Croatia
The Seleção put to bed whatever uncertainty there may have been about their potential without Ronaldo after a resounding victory over Croatia tonight at the Estádio do Dragão.
Portugal tirelessly pressured the visitors and were unlucky in the end not to turn a comprehensive victory into a full-on rout with only Petkovic's late goal in reply.
João Félix and Diogo Jota both scored their first-ever goals for the Seleção while Francisco Trincão made his senior side debut.
Ever full of surprises, Fernando Santos handed the starting goalkeeper assignment to Anthony Lopes while Cancelo kept out Nélson Semedo at right-back. André Silva's return to form at the close of the 2019/20 season for Eintracht Frankfurt was not enough to convince Santos with Diogo Jota starting alongside João Félix as Ronaldo missed out due to a toe infection.
The first half was surprisingly good entertainment considering it had been nearly a year since Portugal last played a competitive match. Initially, play was tedious with both sides exchanging poor attempts inside the opening quarter hour through Vlasic and Danilo, respectively.
But Cancelo gave a warning sign that this would be Portugal's half on twenty minutes when he deftly cut inside his marker and tested Livakovic with an outside-of-the-boot effort which was parried out for a corner.
After that, Portugal were all over Croatia.
First, João Félix hit the post following great build-up play, and Guerreiro was a bit unlucky to see his follow-up shot saved by Croatia's excellent keeper. Then Pepe was first to a well-delivered corner, but his towering header was somehow kept out by Livakovic. The rebound came back to Pepe, but this effort too was smothered out for a corner.
Minutes later, Diogo Jota, who was linking up well with Félix and Bernardo Silva, met a superb Bruno Fernandes cross with in an off-balanced, looping header which just caught the edge of the right upright. Shortly after, Guerreiro found space just outside the penalty area and let loose a shot which struck the left upright.
Portugal kept the pressure on and just when it looked as if it would be all square at the halftime break, Cancelo stepped up and crushed a sensational drive into the top left corner from 25 meters. It was just reward for a half in which Portugal bossed possession and racked up six shots on target in addition to striking the woodwork on three separate occasions. Croatia finally managed to get in a shot with a minute left in the half through Kramaric, but the rare effort only further emphasized Portugal's dominance to that point.
🧐 Revê a exibição 𝐝𝐞 𝐠𝐚𝐥𝐚 da nossa Seleção frente à Croácia! 🔜 Amanhã queremos mais uma vitória! #VamosTodos #VamosComTudo— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) September 7, 2020
⏰ Amanhã às 19h45
🧐 Rewatch #TeamPortugal's 𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐜𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬 performance against Croatia! 🔜 We'll go for another win tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/Oa69R5YBNz
Portugal continued their patient but continuous probing in the second half. Bruno Fernandes combined well with Bernardo Silva and the former's shot was well-gathered by Livakovic. Croatia pushed forward, but Portugal countered with long passes to their speedy forwards, especially Jota. Raphael Guerreiro played in the Wolves striker just before the hour mark, and he duly justified his inclusion by stepping inside a defender and finishing into the opposite corner with conviction.
The Seleção continued to relentlessly pressure the Croatian defense each time they had the ball and it paid off again in the 70th minute when João Félix drove a hard shot past Livakovic that the beleaguered keeper might feel he should have kept out. Trincão made his debut in the 78th minute but Portugal had the match well in hand.
Even a late Petkovic consolation could not dampen the mood as there was still time for substitute André Silva to bundle home Portugal's fourth of the night after a corner with the last kick of the game. It was a performance which will have inspired confidence in the legion of Portugal supporters all over the world.
After such a long interval it would have been expected for the squad to suffer from a lack of chemistry, but no such problems were apparent. Portugal controlled possession and registered 11 shots on goal compared to two for the visitors. Combination play between Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, and João Félix was far better than may have been anticipated, and even the final scoreline was perhaps merciful on Croatia with only the woodwork and Livakovic to thank for preventing further embarrassment.
The defense, meanwhile, was quietly effective at repelling any Croatian forays into the attacking third, blocking five shots and ultimately forcing Croatia into giving up possession throughout the match. Lopes was effective though rarely troubled, and Santos must be credited for his tactical preparations once again. In a match where most of Portugal's starting XI was very good, it must be said Bruno Fernandes was top with six key passes including an assist, three dribbles, four tackles, and four shots.
Portugal travel to Sweden on Tuesday, 8 September, ahead of France on goal differential in Group 3 of League A.
by Nathan Motz
Portugal XI: Anthony Lopes - Raphael Guerreiro, Rúben Dias, Pepe, João Cancelo - Danilo, Moutinho (Sergio Oliveira, 82'), Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva (Trincão, 78') - Diogo Jota, João Félix (André Silva, 88')
Croatia XI: Livakovic - Barisic, Lovren, Vida, Jedvaj - Kovacic, Brekalo, Vlasic, Pasalic, Rebic - Kramaric
[1-0] - João Cancelo, 41'
[2-0] - Diogo Jota, 58'
[3-0] - João Félix, 70'
[3-1] - Petkovic, 90 + 1'
[4-1] - André Silva, 90 + 5'