Euro 2016: Moment of class enough to carry Portugal into last eight
LENS, France (Reuters)- - Portugal relied on one, late, moment of class to grab their first victory at Euro 2016 and move into the last eight with a 1-0 win over Croatia despite failing to hit the target for almost two hours and struggling to build any cohesive attacks.
With both two teams oozing talent, fans were expecting fireworks in a game pitting the goal-scoring prowess of Ronaldo against the play-making abilities of fellow Champions League winner and Real Madrid team mate Luka Modric of Croatia.
Instead they got to see two hours of cagey, nervy football with only one shot on target amid some shocking finishing until mercurial Ricardo Quaresma lit up the stadium with his winner three minutes from the end of extra time.
All eyes were on Ronaldo but for almost all the game he was nowhere to be seen, shut out by two and three Croats at all times.
Winger Nani was equally subdued, trying to find some space but ending up crashing against a wall of defenders every time.
Yet the best talent finds a way to make an impact, all that was needed was one spark, and they got it with teenager Renato Sanches, the poster boy of Portugal's new generation, launching a quick break to feed Nani on the left.
As always, Ronaldo dug deep into his reserves to charge up in support on the right and Nani picked him out with a clever, threaded low cross. Ronaldo's shot from a tight angle was blocked by keeper Danijel Subasic's quick reflexes but Quaresma, brought on in the 87 minute, was on hand to nod-in on the rebound and set up a quarter-final with Poland.
It was not supposed to be Quaresma's game and certainly not his tournament with coach Fernando Santos having hauled him off after he failed to follow tactical instructions in their 0-0 group-stage draw against Austria, berating him in public.
The 32-year-old, who made the squad after reviving his career with a second spell at Turkey's Besiktas, was long seen by critics as having failed to make the most of his talent in a topsy-turvy career punctuated by tantrums.
Raised at the Sporting Lisbon youth academy at the same time as Ronaldo, many felt then that Quaresma was the more likely of the pair to set the sport alight.
Instead, Ronaldo went on to become three-times world player of the year and scoop endless trophies while Quaresma's misfortunes included being kicked out of Besiktas for indiscipline and missing out on three successive World Cups.
However, enjoying another revival, the winger scored twice and set up two more as Portugal beat Estonia in a Euro warm-up two days before the start of the tournament.
Quaresma was again left on the bench on Saturday before making the most of a brief substitute appearance that will live long in the memory of Portuguese fans.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Mitch Phillips)