Euro 2016: Portugal seal quarter-final spot with 1-0 win over Croatia in extra time
Portugal beat Croatia 1-0 in the third UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 fixture with a goal from Ricardo Quaresma late in the second half of extra-time at Lens on Saturday night. A dreary affair saw no shots on target in the 90 minutes and the game looked all set to go to penalties before a counter-attack saw Portugal seal a quarter-final berth right at the death.
Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Vida, Strinic; Modric, Badelj; Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic; Mandzukic
Portugal: Patrício; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Carvalho, Gomes, Adrien, Mario; Nani, Ronaldo
Croatia’s Luka Modric was fit to start after recovering from a groin injury and Ante Cacic made as many as five changes to the side that beat Spain 2-1 in the final group game. Mario Mandzukic also returned to the starting lineup to lead the attack.
Fernando Santos also made a few changes to the Portugal lineup as four players came into the starting XI. Ricardo Carvalho was dropped to the bench as Jose Fonte took his place while his club teammate Cedric Soares was also put into the back four. The out-of-form Joao Moutinho was replaced with Adrien Silva while Raphael Guerreiro also made a return from injury.
Neither team takes the initiative in drab first half
The Seleccao were looking for their first win in the tournament after three draws but conceded possession in the early stages of the game. However, they were solid at the back with support from their midfielders too, particularly Gomes who stopped a dangerous move from developing between Rakitic and Brozovic.
But Croatia were guilty of not building up attacks when they had the ball. With so many changes, it seemed like nobody wanted to take the initiative and some tight defending made it impossible to force defenders into committing a mistake.
Portugal’s best chance of the game came when Ronaldo won a soft free-kick on the left. Guerreiro curled a cross into the box and Pepe met it with his head to get a free shot on goal only to see it sail over much to the frustration of the Real Madrid defender. Perisic also looked to increase his goal tally in the tournament and had his chance after making a darting run into the box only to see his shot hit the side-netting.
Ronaldo barely touched the ball in the first half and failed to get a shot on target. His strike partner Nani saw more of the ball in good areas but failed to deliver on the final pass as his decision-making let him down.
Croatia’s best chance was on a counter-attack when Perisic found Strinic out on the left in space. Both Mandzukic and Brozovic were available in the box but his cross was not the best allowing Fonte to clear. With both teams canceling each other out, the referee’s half-time whistle seemed a blessing in disguise.
Second half: More action, still no shots on target
Portugal’s Andre Gomes lasted just five minutes of the second half and came off for the highly-rated Renato Sanches. The midfielder had completed only 7 passes in the first half and Santos had seen enough.
Croatia looked to walk the game up from its deep slumber and had chances early in the half. A quickly-taken corner saw the Portuguese defence panic and then heave a sigh of relief when Brozovic’s first time shot from a tight angle failed to find the top corner and went over the bar.
Sanches’ introduction, however, seemed to revive Portugal’s midfield. He was winning the ball back, holding it well with his strength and even initiating attacks of his own. A one-two put him in the perfect position to pull the trigger but his shot was scuffed and went wide of the target.
Domagoj Vida could have given Croatia the lead from a set-piece when Rakitic sent in an inviting cross – if he had let it go for Mandzukic. The Juventus striker was perfectly placed to direct a header home before Vida came in the way and sent a header wide much to Mandzukic’s disbelief.
Portugal believed they had a penalty when Strinic kicked Nani in the rib cage as the Portuguese forward looked to get on the end of a lob inside the box by deliberately using his shoulder to direct it goalward. The 29-year-old Fenerbahce forward went down inside the box as Portugal appealed for a penalty but the referee waved away their appeals.
But as the game wore on, neither goalkeeper was truly tested. In spite of the introduction of players such as Quaresma and Kalinic, the full-time whistle saw a grand total of zero shots on target.
Portugal nick it in extra-time
While the first half of extra-time hardly saw any goalmouth action (again there was no shot on target), the second half of extra-time was a completely different story altogether. Portugal weathered wave after wave of Croatian attacks and it was almost unbelievable how they managed to keep a clean sheet.
It was actually Croatia who had two chances in two minutes to seal the tie when first Vida had another header on goal that saw his effort go over the bar. Soon after, Perisic had an acrobatic effort come off the upright.
But that rebound was Portugal’s salvation. It saw them launch a counter-attack with Sanches picking Nani whose pass across the box found Ronaldo. The captain took a shot that was initially saved by Subasic but Ricardo Quaresma was on hand to tap in the rebound into an empty net to give Portugal a 1-0 win.