Croatia will hope to continue their impressive run at the Euros when they take on a stuttering Portugal side in the last-16 fixture at Stade Bollaert-Delelis. This match will be played on Saturday, June 25.
Croatia were always going to be one of the underdogs at the Euros but with their performances in the group stages, they have quickly turned into one of the favorites. Croatia were pitted along with Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic in a slightly tricky group D. There isn’t any surprise in Croatia qualifying for the knockouts but the manner of their progress blew everyone out. They defeated Turkey 1-0 in their group opener with a stunning Luka Modric strike. In the next match, they went 2-0 up against Czech Republic only to see the lead whittle down and eventually settle for a 2-2 draw. But their best was reserved for defending Champions Spain whom they defeated 2-1 in a virtuoso performance. With two wins and a draw, they picked up seven points and qualified as group leaders. The reward for their exceptional run so far is a berth in the easier half of the knockouts. With Belgium, Poland and a clutch of underdogs for company, Croatia can aim for a place in the finals if they play to their potential. And on current form, expecting them to advance is more prudent than expecting Portugal to be consistent.
And that precisely has been Portugal’s bane! Drawn along with Hungary, Iceland and Austria in a relatively safer group, Portugal were expected to be in the hunt for top position. But true to the fears of their supporters, the Portuguese have been brand ambassadors of inconsistency. No one typified this more than their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo who cut a sorry figure in the opening two games against Iceland and Austria which ended in draws for Portugal. And when they needed a win against Hungary in the final group game, they nearly got themselves dumped before a remarkable fight back led by Ronaldo helped them gain a valuable point. In the end it was just enough for Portugal to sneak through in third place as one of the best third-placed teams. Having struggled against every team so far, the first sight of a big team could prove to be the final straw of Euro 2016 for Portugal.
Croatia have lost just once in their last 15 matches making them the form team coming into this match. They are unbeaten in the tournament so far and have an excellent chance of going deep in the competition.
Portugal lost one and won one match in their last five encounters. They have been very unimpressive so far and could struggle against the in-form Croatia.
Key players and team news
Playmaker Luka Modric is expected to return to the starting line-up after missing the last game. Nikola Kalinic impressed in his first start of the Euros and could start ahead of the misfiring Mario Mandzukic. Ivan Perisic was brilliant against Spain and will be key once again in putting the Portuguese defense to sword.
For Portugal there are doubts over the availability of Raphael Guerreiro but otherwise there are not many concerns on injury front. Nani blew hot and cold against Hungary while Ricardo Quaresma was impressive from the substitute bench and could press his chances for a starting berth.
Portugal scored more than a goal in just five of their previous ten encounters. They had only four clean sheets in this period casting a doubt on their defensive capabilities. Ronaldo would be desperate to showcase his abilities and betting on him to find a goal is a good bet to start with.
Croatia have a far better record with eight wins out of ten encounters. They are a difficult team at the back too as indicated by six clean sheets during this period. In six of those games, they scored more than a goal while none witnessed a zero return in this period. Backing Croatia to finish with another clean sheet isn’t a bad bet.
Portugal have won all three of their matches against Croatia scoring six and giving none. That record could be up for grabs as Croatia look good to march on to the quarter-finals. To bet on Croatia’s win looks practical too given their recent record.