Portugal 4-1 Croatia
Reigning UEFA Nations League champions Portugal made a perfect start to their title defence as they thumped World Cup finalists Croatia 4-1 in Porto despite missing talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was sidelined due to a toe infection, which has delayed his quest to reach 100 career international goals.
But as SBOTOP pointed out in the preview for this match, Portugal possess a wealth of young attacking options in their squad, and they proved with this impressive performance that the country’s future post-Ronaldo is really bright.
Highlights of the game
The big UEFA Nations League 2020 news for Portugal was that Atletico Madrid youngster Joao Felix would lead the attack in Ronaldo’s absence as a false nine, with Wolves’ Diogo Jota and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva on either side.
Meanwhile, Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes also started in a three-man midfield alongside Joao Moutinho and Danilo.
Croatia had the first crack at goal as Nikola Vlasic’s shot went just wide. But after that, Portugal controlled the play and created a number of opportunities which tested Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic. The 25-year-old made some timely saves to deny Bruno Fernandes and Joao Cancelo.
Livakovic once again came to Croatia’s rescue on 25 minutes as he produced an amazing double save to deny veteran centre-back Pepe, once from a header off a corner and again on the rebound.
Minutes later, Portugal hit the post through a Diogo Jota header. The Wolves man also fired into the side netting with a powerful shot.
The home side would hit the post again on 33 minutes after a brilliant effort from Raphael Guerreiro. The ball then ricocheted onto a diving Livakovic’s legs, but it somehow went out of play instead of into his goal.
Portugal seemingly needed something special to beat Livakovic, and Joao Cancelo produced just that to open the scoring on 41 minutes. The Manchester City man unleashed a spectacular long-range strike which flew right into the top corner. Livakovic still got a slight touch on the ball, but he was not going to stop that shot.
Portugal continued to pile on the pressure in the second half as they went in search of a second goal, which they got right before the hour mark. Jota and Guerreiro combined beautifully on a give-and-go, and after getting behind the Croatia defence, the Wolves striker kept his composure and slotted past Livakovic.
Portugal then sealed the win with a third on 70 minutes through Joao Felix. Likavokic was unable to keep out the Atletico forward’s thunderous shot from the edge of the box as the 20-year-old celebrated his first career goal for his country in his sixth senior cap.
Croatia salvaged some pride by claiming a consolation goal through substitute Bruno Petkovic in stoppage time. A mistake from Cancelo allowed the Croatians to create a good chance, and Petkovic made no mistake with his finish.
But the home side would still have the last say in the match as Andre Silva grabbed a fourth with the very last kick of the game.
It was a fitting end to a fantastic all-around performance from Portugal and their promising new generation.
Even without Ronaldo, Portugal were utterly dominant against Croatia, who struggled mightily to make the game competitive without Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pulling the strings in midfield.
The home side had 57 per cent of possession and fired an incredible 27 shots, 11 of which were on target. Meanwhile, Croatia only had five shots, two on target.
Jota impressed in his very first start for his country as he had a team-high five shots. Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes also had four shots each for Portugal, who are now unbeaten in their five Nations League group games (three wins, two draws).
Portugal will look to build off this excellent result in next Nations League assignment away to Sweden on September 9. However, Ronaldo remains doubtful to play in that match against the Swedes due to his toe infection, Portugal coach Fernando Santos said post-match.
But after Portugal’s performance against Croatia, the UEFA Nations League 2020 betting odds should still have them as comfortable favourites against the Swedes, who fell 1-0 to France in their first Nations League match.
Meanwhile, Croatia will next take on defending world champions France in their World Cup final rematch. But without midfield maestros Modric and Rakitic, it will be tough for the Croatians to pick up a positive result.
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