Portugal-Croatia preview: Cristiano Ronaldo back as Portugal test themselves ahead of Euro 2024 

“Cristiano Ronaldo and Rúben Neves arrive today and the family is complete,” said Roberto Martínez in the pre-match press conference ahead of Portugal’s second Euro 2024 warm-up match, against Croatia tomorrow.

Therefore, all the players will be available to the coach apart from veteran centre-back Pepe, who is still working to attain full fitness after injury problems saw him miss the final games of the season for Porto. 

“Pepe is working very well, but the focus for him is to play against Ireland,” said Martínez. Portugal’s final pre-tournament friendly is against the Irish in Aveiro on Tuesday.

Fellow Euro 2024 participants

Before that Portugal play their only Euro 2024 preparation match against a team that will also be competing in Germany. After beating Finland 4-2 on Tuesday, tomorrow’s clash at the iconic Estádio Nacional in Jamor will be the sternest test the Seleção face ahead of the tournament.

“Our goal is to do everything to make sure we are at our best level in the first match of the Euro,” said Martínez. Portugal play their opener against Czechia on 18 June in Leipzig.

“Croatia are extremely competitive opponents and different from the teams we have played so far. It will serve to show what level we are at.” 

Improved defensive focus needed

Martínez was asked about the leaky defence against Finland and in recent games. It was the third match in a row in which Portugal conceded two goals.

“There was a lack of defensive focus. The defensive intensity needs to be there. We attack with 11, we defend with 11. I’m happy this [problem] happened against Finland and not later on, because it’s something we have to improve before the Euro.”

Given the superb end-of-season form of Vitinha and a positive display against Finland, the PSG midfielder may have played himself into the starting XI for the Euro, even though he was used sparingly during the qualifying campaign.

If Martínez chooses what appears to be his strongest lineup right now for the Croatia match, it could be something close to this 4-3-3: Diogo Costa; João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, António Silva, Nuno Mendes; João Palhinha, Vitinha, Bruno Fernandes; Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Leão

Croatia, the great overachievers

The Croatians need little introduction as one of the strongest football nations in the world, having finished runners up and third in the last two World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively. Alongside Uruguay, the eastern European country can be considered one of football’s most overperforming teams considering its population of less than four million people.

Record caps holder Luka Modric remains at the hub of the team, and will be buoyed by yet another Champions League triumph with Real Madrid, while Portuguese fans will also recognise striker Petar Musa, who up until January played in the Primeira Liga, first for Boavista then Benfica.

Curiously, Zlatko Dalic’s team have not managed such impressive results in European Championships, getting knocked out in the Round of 16 in the last two Euros, in 2016 by Fernando Santos’ Seleção on their way to lifting the trophy.

Portugal could feasibly play Croatia again in the Round of 16 in Germany if the Seleção top their group (Czechia, Turkey and Georgia) and the Croats come third in Group B, which contains Spain, Italy and Albania.

The match between Portugal and Croatia tomorrow, Saturday 8 June, kicks of at Jamor at 5.45 pm local time.

By Tom Kundert