Teams Are Dominated By Fear In The Last 16 - What We Learned From Croatia 0-1 Portugal (AET)


Teams Look Scared Of The Knock-Out Stages

We have yet to see a team really go for it in these knock-out games. Everyone looks terrified of losing. So much so that we have been starved of quality and excitement over the opening three games of the round of 16.

Here, two fairly bullish sides appeared more concerned with worrying about what each other was going to do, rather than really having a go at their opponents. Earlier Wales and Northern Ireland had played out a rather dry encounter, while the day’s opener between Switzerland and Portugal only provided drama in the shape of penalties.

Managers and players do not seem keen to take a risk and that has made for very average viewing so far. Early goals may be needed if we are to have any fireworks in these matches, such is the mean level of teams across the tournament. 

 

 Ivan Persic Is Not Afraid To Express Himself

The Croatian star had a map of his country shaved into his head for the opening game. He went full paint job against Portugal.

 

Portugal Take A Leaf Out Of Wales’s Book

The Portuguese have long ago accepted that Cristiano Ronaldo is their main goal threat and star man but they do not usually opt to sit as deep as they did here.

They sat in, kept their shape and discipline and asked a technically gifted Croatia outfit to break them down. The addition of William Carvalho in front of the back four made the Seleccao das Quinas much harder to break down than they were in that incredible game against Austria.

Jose Fonte came in at the back to add more steel and movement and they looked to use the technical skill of Nani and Andre Gomes to start breaks and try and find Ronaldo in a central position.  The pressure on Luka Modric and the lack of options thanks to how deep Portugal were really neutralised the Real Madrid man.

 

But Forget To Give The Ball To Ronaldo

The Portuguese may have adapted a new game plan here, with the primary focus on not conceding and starving the likes of Perisic, Rakitic and Modric of the ball. It worked pretty well but they appeared to sacrifice the service to their main man.

Ronaldo had averaged 10 shots per game prior to this clash, in the 90 minutes here he did not manage a single strike at goal. It was no fault of his own. The ball hardly made it to the Croatian box, there was little he could do, while the route in to him was patrolled superbly. 

It is all well and good Portugal being more compact against better sides but they have to open up at some point, they have to get the ball to Ronaldo, it is the only way they can win a football match. 

 

Renato Sanches Is A Star And He should Have Started

The youngster signed for Bayern Munich before this tournament after a huge battle for his signature amongst Europe’s to sides, and it is clear to see why.

Every time he has taken to the field in France his pace and energy have altered the way Portugal play. His drive through the middle forces the team forward and he makes the midfield a much more fearsome prospect. It seems odd he hasn’t been a starter at this Euros. 

He is raw but he looks a supreme athlete. He is the sort of player that no one will enjoy facing and Manchester United may live to rue missing out on his signature. He entered the pitch here and totally changed the momentum of the game, producing quick incisive passes and runs that drove his team forward.

He has the look of a young Anderson. Yes, before you start laughing, the United flop was superb as a youngster and was very good when he first arrived the north-west. Hopefully Sanches’ career takes a more profitable route.