TWO unbeaten sides meet in the Last 16 as Croatia take on Portugal on Saturday. Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) previews the match.
Croatia v Portugal | Saturday 20:00 | ITV1
This looks a classic Saturday night major championship match for us all to savour but of course it nearly didn’t happen as a late Iceland goal on Wednesday switched Portugal away from England and into the jaws of Croatia.
For some, Croatia have been the most impressive side of the tournament so far. They were the first outfit in 12 years to beat Spain in this competition and dominated Turkey and the Czech Republic in their other two Group C matches.
Ante Cacic seems to have his side well tuned and there looks a real purpose about his men. They’ve been placed in the kinder half of the draw and currently have single figure odds next to their name to win the tournament. It’s all there for them.
It’s been much more of a schlep for Portugal in this competition. For starters they haven’t won yet. To be fair they haven’t lost either but their 1-1 draw with Iceland and scoreless contest with Austria offered few positives. The 3-3 draw with Hungary was exciting as Ronaldo kicked into gear but should they really be conceding three to a team like Hungary?
One of my fears for Croatia here is the possibility of their form dropping off from their excellent group campaign. They have history in this kind of thing.
They won all three of their group games in Euro 2008 (including a win over Germany) before losing on penalties to Turkey in the Quarter-Finals. In that same competition Holland were outstanding in the group stages before losing to Russia in the first knockout round.
To be fair these may be just pure coincidences as the only other example of this kind of group-to-knockout meltdown I can see in recent years is Spain in the 2006 World Cup.
For me Croatia have been a far better side than Portugal in this competition and it’s fair to say I was surprised to see quotes as large as 17/10 on them winning on Saturday night.
Portugal have the pedigree, there’s no doubt about that. Fernando Santos’ side have reached the semi-finals of this competition in three of the last four renewals but there are negatives about the Portugal 2016 version.
Despite winning seven of their eight qualifying matches they were fairly unspectacular with all these victories coming by just the odd goal. Defence was their strength with just four conceded under Santos but to see them concede three to Hungary earlier in the week was a real negative.
It’s all there for Croatia if they can overcome this experienced Portugal side. A date with Poland or Switzerland in the Quarter-Finals will follow and then a possible match with Belgium in a week and half for a place in the final could follow. What an opportunity.
If the Croats can play like the did in the group stages then they should be too strong for Portugal. Luka Modric may return for Cacic’s side and that’s another positive.
I’m struggling to find any other angle to this game than Croatia reaching the Quarter-Finals but naturally backing them to win in 90 minutes comes with risk. Two of the seven Euros knockout games went to extra time in the last two competitions and both these sides featured in that equation.
I’ll back Croatia to qualify here at 5/6 with Netbet and have a small interest on Portugal failing to score at 8/5. They scored just 11 goals in eight qualifying games and came up against nothing like the might of Croatia and they’ve already had a blank in this competition.