Croatia 2-3 Portugal
The Seleção rounded off their Nations League campaign with a 3-2 win against Croatia in Split, in a matched marked by a poor playing surface and defensive mistakes from both teams.
The home side took a first-half lead through Mateo Kovacic, but the game changed when Croatia’s Marko Rog picked up a second yellow card and was sent off shortly after the break. Two quick goals followed for Portugal through Dias and João Félix, but a fine strike by Kovacic seemed to have earned Croatia a draw.
Rúben Dias had other ideas. The Manchester City defender, who had never previously scored for his country, showed good awareness to notch his second goal of the game with a last-minute winner.
Santos rings the changes
Fernando Santos switched things up after Saturday’s defeat to France, bringing in Nélson Semedo, Mário Rui, Rúben Semedo, João Moutinho and Diogo Jota, respectively for João Cancelo, Raphael Guerreiro, José Fonte, William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva.
There was no noticeable improvement in the first half from the weekend game, with Portugal playing with none of the dynamism that had characterised their earlier matches in the competition, not least against the same opponent in a thumping 4-1 win in Lisbon in September.
The heavy pitch was a contributing factor, with both teams finding it hard to get passing combinations going. It was Croatia who struck first. A poor clearance from Rúben Semedo led to a low cross with Kovacic first to reach it. Rui Patrício made a fine reaction save to repel his initial effort, but the Chelsea midfielder made no mistake with the rebound.
Portugal responded with Danilo and Felix efforts, but Croatia went into the break with their lead intact.
In the 51st minute Marko Rog tripped up Ronaldo from behind leading the referee to brandish a second yellow card to him and the subsequent red, and from the resulting free kick the Seleção immediately took advantage of more bodies in the box. Ronaldo’s fierce free kick was athletically kept out by Livakovic, but as the ball looped into the air Portugal’s two centre-back Rúbens combined, Semedo doing well to tee up Dias to score from close range.
The turnaround was soon complete, although Croatia could justifiably feel aggrieved at the manner of the goal. Diogo Jota raced onto a ball over the defence, clearly controlling it with his hand, albeit inadvertently, then teed up João Félix whose scuffed shot found its way into the corner of the net. With no VAR, the goal stood despite strong protests from Croatia’s players.
A man up and a goal up, Portugal looked set for a calm stroll to victory, but Croatia showed spirit to draw level. Rúben Semedo was again passive in his defending, with Kovacic needing no second invitation to fire a fine finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to make it 2-2.
Half-time substitute Francisco Trincão was seeing plenty of the ball and using it well. The Barcelona youngster had one goal-bound effort deflected over the bar and later showed tremendous skill to beat two defenders and set himself for a shot but hit his effort wide.
When the Croatia goalkeeper saved Trincão’s next effort Bernardo Silva seemed certain to score from the rebound, but the Manchester City man’s shot bounced into the ground and marginally over the bar.
Portugal’s late pressure told and again it was a defensive blunder that led to the goal. Croatia goalkeeper Livokovic collided with Lovren when attempting to catch a cross, dropping the ball, and the alert Dias swivelled swiftly to score his second goal of the match and give the Seleção victory.
By Tom Kundert
Portugal: Patricio, Nélson Semedo, Rúben Semedo, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui (João Cancelo, 71’), João Moutinho, Danilo Pereira (Sérgio Oliveira, 77’), Bruno Fernandes (Trincão, 46’), Diogo Jota (Paulinho, 77’), Cristiano Ronaldo, João Félix (Bernardo Silva, 71’)