LENS: Every successful team, in any sport, in any competition, needs a little good fortune. Portugal, in reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, used up enough luck to see them through to the finals in 2020, if not beyond that.
Having scraped out of their group in third place, Fernando Santos’s team somehow held the far more energetic Croatia goalless deep into stoppage time then, having just been saved by a post, they broke away for Ricardo Quaresma to head a breakaway, counter-attacking winner.
Minutes later the final whistle prompted delerious Portuguese celebrations while the baffled, bemused and beaten Croat players wandered around the pitch in a fog of incomprehension, their eyes glazed like zombies.
Portugal, somehow, thus continue to a quarter-final against Poland next Thursday in Marseille. Croatia, their campaign tarnished by their fans’ outbursts, fly home wondering where it all went wrong.
The match itself produced a modicum of chances. Croatia were possessed of more energy but Portugal, while looking leg-weary, proved themselves perfectly capable of contesting the physical battle.
Pepe for Portugal and Ivan Perisic for Croatia were unable to capitalise on first-half half-chances and Marcelo Brozovic and talented young substitute Renato Sanches were off target on being presented with rare openings for each side after the interval.
Cristiano Ronaldo was little in evidence, slowed by injury and restricted to gestures of impatience and frustration whenever a putative attack was halted by Croat resistance.
Extra-time produced more drama than all the previous 90 minutes.
In the first 15 minutes Nikola Kalinic, the Fiorentina striker, shot wastefully wide after a lucky bounce fell into his path as he surged forward; Brozovic was similarly off target on the break. At least that was two more goal efforts than Portugal managed.
After the turnaround Vida headed over from a left-wing corner which goalkeeper Rui Patricio missed then Kalinic drove the ball across the face of a gaping goal without anyone being close enough to apply a finishing touch.
Perisic rose to head against a post but, while Croatia were cursing their luck, Portugal broke away. The brilliant young Renato Sanches burst through the centre, passed left to Nani whose cross to the right found Ronaldo striding in on goal. Keeper Danijel Subasic reached a hand to the Portugal captain’s shot but the ball merely sat up conveniently for Quaresma to head in from close range.
The weary players of both teams could barely believe it. But the Portuguese were the only ones to raise a smile.
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