Croatia v Portugal: Expert v Expert Preview


 Croatia bagged a famous win in the dying minutes against Spain and their reward is a tough clash with a Portugal team who are fresh from a six-goal thriller with Austria. 

This is arguably the pick of the ties in the round of 16 as two ‘dark horses’ square-up in Lens.

Our experts Juraj Vrdoljak and Tom Kundert preview the match. 

 

TEAM NEWS

Juraj Vrdoljak on Croatia: After a surprising victory over Spain left Croatia top of Group D, a strong feeling of optimism has returned inside the checkered shirt camp. 

What makes the Spain victory even more remarkable is the fact Croatia pulled it off with no less than five fresh faces in the first XI. With the whole squad fit for selection, it is expected that the coach Cacic will obviously field the strongest squad, with Modric, Strinic, Vida and Brozovic as starters. The only slight doubt that remains regards the striker – will Mandzukic return as well, or did the in-form Kalinic claim his place in the starting line-up?

Tom Kundert on Portugal: There is good news for Portugal, as left-back Raphael Guerreiro resumed full training after missing the Hungary game through muscle fatigue, and he will certainly return to the team after the poor showing from his replacement Eliseu. There could be a first start for 18-year-old midfielder Renato Sanches, in place of the out-of-form João Moutinho. Coach Fernando Santos is likely to stick to the 4-4-2 formation with Nani and Ronaldo playing as mobile forwards.

 

FORM

Vrdoljak: It wasn't just the tapestry of possible opponents being classified as '‘easier’ ones in the second round that has made Croatia optimistic. If it wasn't for the late Czech comeback, they would have topped the group with three straight victories, conceding only once on the way through. 

This Croatia side is surprisingly unfussed and exciting; reminiscing the good feeling of Euro 2008 campaign. Although, considering the scenario back then, it should come both as a well of optimism and as a warning. 

Kundert: Portugal put in their worst performance against Hungary, especially from a defensive point of view, conceding three goals and were a little fortunate not to concede more. A big improvement will be needed against Croatia, arguably the most impressive team of the group stages, whose confidence will be sky-high after beating Spain.

Ronaldo getting back amongst the goals is obviously a big boost to Portugal, and both he and Nani have each netted twice in the tournament. There is still a feeling this Portugal team has not fully clicked yet. They’ll need to to get past the Croats. 

 

KEY MAN

Vrdoljak: It would be easy to say that the return of rested Luka Modric means the world to this Croatia squad, with the Real Madrid midfield maestro being one of the top players of the tournament so far. But with the Portuguese most likely aiming their guns at our central midfield, Ivan Perisic could use that to continue his amazing form. The 27-year old scored both against Czech Republic and Spain, and it was only the crossbar v Turkey that prevented him from the sharing the group stage top scorer title alongside Morata and Bale.

Kundert: Renato Sanches. The hoards who have been calling for the Benfica wonder-kid to start could have their wishes granted in this match. He did a good job when coming on against Hungary in the second half. The strength, energy and drive he provides in the middle of the pitch will be required against a formidable-looking midfield, to prevent Modric and Rakitic running the show. 

 

SURE THING

Vrdoljak: Providing this could be a very entertaining game of two teams with great attacking individuals, the option of both teams netting at least one at 2.20 looks a good one.

Kundert: Nani has looked a goal threat in each of Portugal’s matches so far, has netted twice and is playing with real confidence in a No9 role rather than on the wing. What better way to crown his 100th Portugal appearance than be adding to his tally? And his odds of finding the net make it a tempting bet at 5.20.

 

LONG SHOT

Vrdoljak: Back this match to go to extra time, where Croatia pulls one over Portugal at 12.00. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the match will go to penalties, but extra time is a possibility.

Kundert: Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro has played as a winger for much of the season at club level, and he has shown great confidence on his frequent forays forward for Portugal this tournament. 21.00 to score the first goal is a decent punt. Back this match to go to extra time, where Croatia pulls one over Portugal at 12.00. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the match will go to penalties, but extra time is a possibility. 

 

SCORE PREDICTION

Vrdoljak:  Croatia 1-1 Portugal at 6.25 

Kundert:  Croatia 2-1 Portugal at 10.50.