Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Croatia v Portugal
One of the most attractive fixtures in the last 16 pits arguably the most impressive team of the tournament so far, Croatia, against a Portugal side that are yet to win a game.
Croatia v Portugal, Saturday 25th June 20.00, ITV1
Croatia – currently enjoying the longest unbeaten run of all teams involved at Euro 2016 (W8-D2-L0) – came from behind to hand Spain their first European Championship defeat since 2004 in their Group D finale.
That victory – as well as the Blazers’ impressive displays throughout the competition – has seen Ante Cacic’s men trimmed to 9/1 to go the distance, having opened as 30/1 shots.
Croatia topped a tough pool and now enter the softer side of the draw but fans would have hoped for an easier first fixture. Although the Blazers are without a knockout win in major tournament football since 1998, confidence in the camp remains high.
The Spain win arrived despite Cacic making five changes. Star man Luka Modric and striker Mario Mandzukic were missing through injury but Croatia won plaudits for their expansive style and provided further evidence they pose a danger to any team in the tournament by not only showing character but discipline in defence and a threat when going forward.
Ivan Perisic and captain Darijo Srna are key to their play with their energetic running on the flanks and ability to whip in dangerous crosses, like the one which led to the Blazers’ equaliser in that encounter.
The Croats scored in all three of their group-games whilst at the back, Cacic ‘s charges have now kept six clean sheets in their past 10 matches.
Portugal have won all three of their previous encounters with Croatia ‘to nil’ but the Selecao drew all three of their Group F games to qualify in third-place from a soft section that included Iceland, Hungary and Austria.
It means the Iberians have kept their 100% record of reaching European Championship knockout stage intact from their seven participations and Fernando Santos’ side have now W7-D3-L0 in their past 10 meaningful matches.
All seven of Portugal’s previous competitive wins have all arrived by a one-goal margin but fortune didn’t favour the Selecao in France during the pool-stage.
They dominated possession and the shot count in all three games without managing to pick up a victory.
Three of the four goals the Iberians conceded came from shots from outside the box, including a couple of deflected strikes against Hungary during their 3-3 thriller last time out. But Portugal’s poor finishing has meant Santos’ squad have led for a grand total of just 19 minutes at Euro 2016 thus far.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally broke his duck in that Hungarian draw to become the first player to score in four different European Championships and is now only one goal short of Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in the competition.
The Selecao’s last seven Euros goals have been scored by Ronaldo (5) or Nani (2) and although there remains an overreliance on the Real Madrid superstar up front, it’s hard to completely rule Portugal out of any match when they can call upon the continent’s most feared forward.
Croatia are fair and understandable 17/10 favourites and although their recent defensive record remains impressive, I still have my doubts about their ability when up against the quality of Ronaldo and co.
Nani, Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma have the speed and directness to counter-attack the Croats in a way that Spain could not and therefore we may see a side to the Portuguese not yet seen at Euro 2016, having previously faced the ultra-defensive Iceland, Hungary and a poor Austria.
Major tournament knockout games tend to be low-scoring affairs but it may pay to buck the trends and pursue a Both Teams To Score bet at 6/5.
There’s no doubt the two teams excel in midfield and going forward, and although there’s a concern the pair could reign in their offensive ambitions, the cream should rise to the top here in an enjoyable and attacking encounter.
Both Teams To Score @ 6/5
*Prices correct at time of publication.