UEFA Nations League 2018/19: Portugal vs. Croatia
It's not even two months since the FIFA World Cup 2018 ended, yet international football is back. Germany takes on the World Champions in today's fixtures of the UEFA Nations League, with Portugal facing the runner-ups Croatia - encounters that will surely provide entertainment for the fans.
Looking at their World Cup form and performances, Portugal aren't a fair match for the Croatians. However, Ronaldo and his men have come out big when people have underestimated them; the group-stage game against Spain, for instance, and their fixture against Croatia will be one tough yet interesting match for the viewers.
Portugal will want to start their UEFA Nations League campaign with a win over Croatia, as their World Cup journey wasn't very convincing.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo will not be the main man leading the Portugal team, and Portugal's success in this tournament heavily depends upon the likes of Bernado Silva, Andre Silva, Bruma, etc. Ronaldo's performance in Russia was pretty impressive, but despite his best efforts, he failed to steer his team to World Cup glory.
Cristiano has been left out of the squad for the Nations League, and this is not something new as this has been the case with Portugal often. Ronaldo is said to be taking rest from international duty. Surprisingly, some more important forwards have been left out of the squad, Moutinho and Ricardo Quaresma being two of them.
Quaresma's brilliant trivela goal is still as fresh in people's mind. That goal was the only one in the game against Iran, which ensured them three points as they finished the group behind Spain and above Iran and Morroco.
With the two main forwards left out, Portugal will look a fair bit weaker as an attacking unit. While Renato Sanches has made a return, Claudio Ramos, Pedro Mendes, Gedson Fernandes and Sergio Oliveira are the four uncapped players in the squad. Santos is most likely to stick to the old 4-4-2 formation that he deployed in the World Cup.
The Croatians had a majestic World Cup campaign, as their players looked dedicated and determined to make it to the finals. Their squad had immense stability, with the likes of Rakitic and Modric holding the midfield. Unfortunately, they were overpowered in the finals as France registered a historic 4-2 win against the mighty Croatians.
With their opening fixture against Portugal, Modric and his compatriots would not hold back as their defeat against France would still be fresh. They will be looking for an impressive start in this league as well.
Zlatko Dalic's tactics and system perfectly gelled in with the Croatians as they made their way to the finals, and he won't likely change his 4-1-4-1 system.
However, the likes of Subasic and Mandzukic have announced retirement from international football and they won't be in the squad for the Nations League. This certainly is a huge blow to the Croatians as Mandzukic has performed brilliantly in every game he played, with Subasic being a star goalkeeper for Croatia. Kalinic is likely to take up the first team spot of Subasic, with Santini replacing Mario.
The Croatian maestro Modric and Barcelona's Rakitic are set to run the midfield, with Brozovic playing as a CDM. Rebic is left out of the squad, and therefore Pjaca will be starting as a right winger, with Perisic on the left.
It's certainly going to be a cracker of a game, with both the teams looking for a win in the opening fixture.