Barcelona have fallen victim a couple of times, ditto Bayern Munich, Arsenal, and Spain. Playing entertaining football, beautiful football, great football or whatever adjective you’ve got to describe how football should be properly played doesn’t guarantee you victory. And sadly, the new favorites to win the European Championships have learnt the lesson the bitter way. After emerging top of their group, Croatia were seen as the team to beat. They had taken Turkey to the cleaners, almost tutoring Czech in the art of playing good football before match disruption saw them surrender a 2-goal advantage, and broken Spain unbeaten record of 14 games in the Euros. Portugal didn’t stand a chance given how poor they have been in the final third. 3 draws and emerging as one of the 4 best losers wasn’t going to be a threat to the Croats.
It really wasn’t, as they saw much of the ball and were always edging closer to making something happen despite both sides having no shots on target for 90 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous for the majority of the game, and Modric, playmaker-in-chief was dictating play having just returned from an injury. Upfront, Rakitic, Perisic and Mandzukic weren’t able to make nothing of their touches against a resolute backline that had Fonte and Pepe in it’s centre. Both sides were playing with zero risks, and except for a 2 or 3 set pieces from Croatia which Domagoj Vida squandered with his headers, Rui Patricio didn’t get tested much.
The introduction of Renato Sanches seemed to help Portugal get more bearing upfront, and the teenager was everywhere. Tackling, making passes, shooting and muscling everyone that came his way. But that didn’t stop Croatia from playing their beautiful football, though much more limited. The arrival of Kalinic was almost going to bring a goal but a lack of a proper cutting edge and finishing prowess saw the Fiorentina striker blast way off target with only Pepe and the keeper to beat. Definitely nothing went according to the script all game-long, but Croatia were tipped by many to proceed to meet Poland in the quarterfinals.
Less than 5 minutes to go in the 2nd half of extra time, Croatia came close, but Perisic’s header was only good enough to hit the goal post. Portugal took the initiate to counter, and with Sanches, Nani, Quaresma and Ronaldo all on the run, it spelt trouble, and that was it. A Nani low cross fed to him by the Munich youngster met Ronaldo, but he couldn’t hit it past Subasic, the deflected shot was however enough for Quaresma to tap in with a simple header, and that confirmed their progress and Croatia’s exit. Portugal had played almost next to nothing all night, but victory was theirs and that is what matters most in football. A pained Rakitic best summed it up when he claimed Portugal didn’t even know how they scored. And that might just be what they will bank on to take them far. They’ve been poor since their first game, but a win has finally come, and Croatia will probably have hoped they let Spain top the group and face Italy instead.