Portugal 1-0 Croatia
Portugal are into the quarter-finals of Euro 2016! In an incredibly tense match of few chances, a late breakaway goal by Ricardo Quaresma sent the Seleção players and supporters into ecstasy.
After an evenly contested 90 minutes, with Pepe for Portugal and Vida for Croatia coming close to scoring with headers, it was Croatia who had the better of extra time.
An intense spell of pressure from Ante Cacic's side saw one effort rebound off the post, but immediately Portugal broke brilliantly as a move involving Renato Sanches, Nani and Ronaldo ended with Quaresma heading in from point-blank range.
On-the-whistle audio report
Portugal 1-0 Croatia
In dramatic fashion, Portugal won their first match of Euro 2016. Renato Sanches, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ricardo Quaresma linked up to steal victory from the jaws of defeat with a sweeping counter-attack just minutes before the end of extra time.
The pressure was felt as soon as the Hungary game ended: Portugal barely made it out of the group with less quality in the tournament and now was time to regroup and focus in overcoming a very good Croatia side. In the first do or die situation for the Quinas side, Santos made several changes and brought into the field what is - to me - the best eleven to start matches with. Cedric, a "true full back" came in to shore up our backline, just like Fonte was positioned alongside Pepe instead of Carvalho. After three performances from Moutinho that didn't show us the top class midfielder he can be, Adrien - perhaps the center midfielder that got to the tournament in best form - came into the eleven alongside his Sporting teammates. In the red and white shirts many were expecting Kalinic to start out up front after his brilliant display against Spain but Mandzukic was still the choice, most likely with the intention of being an aerial threat – one of, if not the biggest, weakness of this backline.
Early on most people were already aware that this match was going to be very different to the group stage ones. The quality was on par between the two sides and Portugal was going to be continuously in control of the match, relentlessly creating chances. In fact the team had the tendency to sit deep the first handful of minutes, letting the Croatians take over possession and control the match. The first play built from the back by Santos’s side only happened around minute 17. With a very low amount of chances throughout the first half (well…throughout the match to be fair), the enthusiasm around this game slowly died down but fans in both sides were sure their team was going for the goal in the second half when they saw the half-time result being 0-0. A header by Pepe that went over the bar and a shot wide from Perisic – who had a relentless first 45’ – were the only highlights. Ronaldo and Nani didn’t get much into the game, having trouble to get in behind Vida and Corluka, while André Gomes seemed a bit sluggish and out of pace with the match. But unlike what happened while facing Hungary, Portugal played a top notch first half defensively. Fonte was on point, William had a positive performance and Adrien’s pressure on Modric was imperative to the team’s success. When it came to transitional play, Guerreiro – to me the best in the first half and one of the best on the pitch tonight – was always the one dragging the team forward with his runs, with and without possession, through the wing or in diagonal movements.
Personally I was more than pleased with Portugal’s defensive performance against such a strong side but we weren’t pulling enough of the strings in the match to get a win out of this one. Often sitting back too much, without enough of Adrien and João Mário on the ball, without enough width on Cedric’side or combinations between our offensive talents. Renato, Uefa’s Man of the Match, came to change a lot of the game’s nature in the second half but there was still a lot to be corrected. Bringing to the game a pacey presence through the middle that Gomes didn’t offer, the side switched into more of a 4-3-3 to “accommodate” the Bayern star. With this João Mário got “lost” too far from the ball out wide and Quaresma was the chosen one to substitute him.
As time went by, the fear of conceding a late goal took over both sides who were clearly into the idea of extra-time. Portugal’s chances in the second half add up to a grand total of zero. Nani had his worst match so far, appearing lost in between the Croatian center backs, and Ronaldo didn’t take a single shot (you read that right, it happens, it’s okay).The side just didn’t seem to want to risk it and the best chances – not like they were many – went to Croatia with Vida spelling trouble every time he rose for a header. Pepe was poor on the ball and had a couple of scares but nothing that threatened the 0-0 that took this uneventful match to extra-time. The first 15’ were a bit more high paced than the rest of the match so far but without much end product yet again. Portugal made a few more combinations on the wing that resulted in a whole lot of nothing and Brozovic moved into more central terrain to create a couple of somewhat dangerous plays. It felt like the Portuguese crowd was seeing those penalties coming and when Vida went close with a header in the second half of extra-time, they sure wished for the 120’ to be over then and there. Luckily Portugal came out of that play living (Vida = life, for the couple of you who aren’t aware) and Danilo replaced Adrien in midfield shortly after. Fernando Santos wished for a Portuguese goal but couldn’t risk conceding one and while the team’s defensive efforts were impressive, spaces slowly appeared over time. The clock was ticking and Perisic went so, so close. As the curtains closed, a break from Renato followed by an outside the foot pass by Nani and a shot from Ronaldo gave us the thing we couldn’t get all match: a chance to score. And while the captain’s effort was followed by a Subotic save, the rebound turned in by Quaresma gave Portugal the tickets to the quarter-finals.
In a match where Portugal needed to show a different side of themselves, they did exactly that – in a positive and negative sense. “The” eleven seems to have been found and defensively it was a very sound match by the men in green. With that said, today the will to take over and create, the will to take risks and shape up the match to our demands didn’t show and that will mandatory for the next one. To close this piece let’s all remind ourselves of what we learned today: the luck that Portugal didn’t have in certain group stage affairs was “repaid” in a lot of moments today. Thursday it’s a clean slate, let’s see what our boys can pull off.
By Tiago Estêvão
Portugal: Patrício, Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, William, Adrien, João Mário, Gomes, Nani, Ronaldo
Croatia: Subotic, Srna, Vida, Corluka, Strinic, Badelj, Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic, Mandzukic
[1-0] Quaresma, 117’