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Euro 2016 Round of 16: Croatia vs Portugal Preview
Our European football scribe previews Saturday's Euro 2016 game between Croatia and Portugal.
Fernando Santo’s Portugal have progressed to the knock-out stages of the tournament through what must be some strange voodoo combination of divine right and Cristiano Ronaldo.They have yet to win a game and look utterly shambolic at the back. Their megalithic superstar also looked to be moving a tad gingerly in the closing stages of their epic 3-3 duel with Hungary, which will only embolden Croatia further as they seek to further enhance their dark horse status.
Crotia will be without superstar Luka Modric but will be looking to build upon an incredible dismantling of Spain; they are the first team to beat Spain in this tournament since 2008.
Croatia v Portugal | Saturday 25 June | Stade Felix-Bollaert | 21:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Croatia 31/20 | Draw 19/10 | Portugal 19/10
Croatia 15/20 | Portugal 19/20
I predicted that Croatia would be a surprise package in the tournament, but never expected them to look so imperious minus the service of Luka Modric. This is just a well-drilled side that has a multitude of attacking options.
Much apart for Portugal’s almost sadistic over-reliance on Ronaldo, there is a unity of vision that permeates this side. Just look at the performances of veteran captain Srna. His dynamic play down the right-hand side and phenomenal crossing ability has allowed them to alternate between more intricate play and a direct approach. Pjaca has been tireless leading the line- reminding one of Diego Milito in Mourinho’s Inter Milan side.
Inter Milan’s Perisic has been perhaps their most dynamic presence. He will look to get beyond the somewhat prehistoric combination of Carvalho and Pepe as often as possible. Srna will also look to test the occasionally lapse judgement of that central defensive pair. Rakitic will look to support Kalinic and Pjaca as often as possible, looking to exploit a rather disjointed, fragmented Portuguese side.
Croatia have the type of clever individuals who can exploit Portugal’s old-fashioned 4-4-2 formation. Corluka and Jedvaj will need to be responsible and make sure that Ronaldo stays as quiet as possible.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s audacious back-heel has done quite a bit to disguise what was yet again another abject Portuguese performance. They are defensively porous, and almost absurdly vulnerable at set-piece scenarios.
They also seem a bit confused as to what their best combination is in midfield. Sanchez has looked dynamic and will surely start on Saturday. Nani has looked a bit trapped in between playing a forward role and attempting to link up play, generally doing neither efficiently. I would expect Santo to opt for both Moutinho and Carvalho in the heart of midfield - a move which stunts the fluidity of the side.
Ronaldo will clearly be hoping to build upon his impressive performance against Hungary and propel Portugal to progression. But I feel like he needs to understand his role in a team before this can happen. His free-kicks are becoming - quite frankly - farcical, while his solo tantrums following the concession of goals is hardly the sort of thing that his going to foster unity in a side.
If Ronaldo would actually be willing to redistribute some of the expectations onto others, this Portuguese side might stand a chance. But as it stands, this is all playing out like one giant pantomime with only room for one victor.
Verdict: Croatia 31/20 (90 Mins)
Ronaldo may indeed have another impressive showing and may disrupt this Croatian side with his speed and strength. But Croatia look too tactically adept and malleable for Portugal, with the ability to go down the flanks and through the middle.