Portugal 1-1 Croatia
Pepe's 100th Portugal appearance was marked with a goal as his header cancelled out a vicious Ivan Perišić strike for a new-look and Ronaldo-less Seleção in the Algarve.
Sérgio Oliveira and Gedson Fernandes made their debuts from the bench as Fernando Santos' side looked refreshed and renewed in this friendly before Monday's Nations League match against Italy.
Fernando Santos unveiled a fresh-looking Portugal side at the Estádio Algarve to face World Cup runners-up Croatia. The selecção were without captain Cristiano Ronaldo who was left out of the team to apparently adjust to life in Turin. His presence tonight may have filled some more seats in south of the country but his absence was not significantly missed by a lively Portugal side.
Pepe took up the captain's armband in his place and to mark his 100th game for Portugal, the 35-year old joined 21-year old Rúben Dias in central defence. Santos opted for Pizzi and Rúben Neves ahead of William Carvalho in midfield and a forward trio of Bruma, Bernardo Silva, and André Silva. They faced a Croatia side with plenty of their World Cup heroes with Luka Modrić and Ivan Perišić starting for Zlatko Dalić's side.
Portugal were very nearly in front inside the first few minutes when Bruma couldn't finish João Cancelo's cross after good work from Bernardo Silva. Bruma and Bernardo both looked bright going forward for Portugal in the opening stages. Despite some protestations from fans and pundits, Bernardo Silva started from the right-side in this game and not centrally.
New Premier League star Rui Patrício was required to make a fantastic save to deny Chelsea's Mateo Kovačić after 10 minutes. At the other end, there would have been nothing Lovre Kalinić could have done a few minutes later when Neves' freekick was centimetres away.
Ivan Perišić put Croatia in the lead in the 18th minute with a thunderous shot from inside the area after a defensive mix-up from Portugal.
14 minutes later Pizzi picked up the ball from a corner kick to swing in an excellent cross to allow Pepe to tower above the Croatia defence and give Portugal a much deserved equaliser. It was a fitting way for the Beşiktaş man to celebrate his milestone in the national side.
Santos made one change at half time with Gelson Martins coming on in the place of Bernardo Silva, the former Sporting winger has played just 32 minutes for Atlético Madrid so far this season.
Almost immediately after the start Ivan Perišić could have put Croatia ahead with a header after he connected with Luka Modrić's corner. Fortunately for Portugal it went straight at Patrício.
As is typical of the second half of a friendly like this the substitutions disrupted the flow of the game after an action-packed first 45 minutes. Portugal couldn't quite find the attacking verve and impetus they demonstrated in the early part of the game.
Portugal's best chance of the second half came through Mário Rui's drilled low cross that Antonio Milić diverted towards his own net but fortunately for him his interception hit the post and rebounded out to safety.
With less than 10 minutes of the game remaining Fernando Santos gave a debut to 26-year-old Porto man Sérgio Oliveira in the place of the solid William Carvalho. Benfica's Gedson Fernandes made his debut too in the 88th minute as the teenager replaced André Silva.
Portugal couldn't grab a winning goal though in truth they didn't look like conceding either. Only Ivan Perišić's early effort really troubled the Portugal defence. It was an impressive performance despite the absence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. The new cycle promised by Fernando Santos demonstrated some exciting, energetic football at times, and if this game is anything to go by the future is looking very promising indeed.
It will be interesting to see how Portugal do on Monday against arguably easier foes in Italy as the brand new UEFA Nations League begins.
by Richard Cole
Portugal XI: Rui Patrício; João Cancelo, Pepe, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui; William Carvalho (Sérgio Oliveira, 81'), Rúben Neves (Renato Sanches, 86'), Pizzi (Bruno Fernandes, 61'); Bernardo Silva (Gelson Martins, 46'), André Silva (Gedson Fernandes, 89'), Bruma (Rony Lopes, 68')
Croatia XI: Lovre Kalinić; Šime Vrsaljko (Antonio Milić, 46'), Matej Mitrović, Domagoj Vida, Borna Barišić; Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovačić; Marko Pjaca (Marko Rog, 72'), Luka Modrić (Mario Pašalić, 55'), Ivan Perišić (Duje Čop, 63'); Marko Livaja (Ivan Santini, 57')
[0-1] Ivan Perišić (18’)
[1-1] Pepe (32’)