Renato Sanches ran down the centre of the Stade Bollaert-Delelis without being challenged by one Croatian defender. He was on the break, and the eighteen year-old had Nani calling for the ball on his left. He kept running.
The game had been slow, and had never really reached the heights that were expected. It was possible to watch the early minutes and think that the two sides were just feeling each other out, sowing the seeds for a great game. Then ten minutes became twenty, and it became clear that the much-awaited game between Croatia and Portugal might not be all that it was cracked up to be.
Sanches was still running. He was right in the middle of Croatia’s half, and he still had Nani running and calling for the ball. Nani hadn’t been picked up, but Sanches was not passing it. Not yet anyway. He kept running.
Pepe had the first real chance of the game for the Portuguese. Raphael Guerreiro, formerly of Lorient, now at Borussia Dortmund, curled a free kick into the box, where the central defender was waiting in a great position. He couldn’t hit the target.
Sanches had reached the edge of the box, having run halfway across the field without opposition. Now Croatia decided it was time to stop him, and an opponent appeared. He decided to honour Nani’s run, and he passed it off to the left.
After Pepe’s missed chance the game had threatened to take off, with missed shots from Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Domagoj Vida. The game had settled back into a familiar rhythm, however, as attacks continued to break down in the final third. Portugal had the supremacy, but it was difficult to tell.
More support was coming for Nani, who was sitting to the left of the Croatian goal, just inside the penalty area. Portugal’s captain and best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, was moving to the right of the goal. Nani crossed the ball in his direction.
Croatia had some great chances just after the break. Ivan Strinic’s cross was dangerous, but it was headed out for a corner. The corner was taken quickly by the Croats, and Marcelo Brozovic was in a perfect position. The game briefly looked like going to another level, but it petered out again.
The ball found Ronaldo hard against the by-line. He was wedged into a corner, and Danijel Subasic was ready to stop him. Ronaldo had been quiet by any standards, let alone his. He had barely received the ball, and when he did he was not in a position to do anything. Even still, there was a sense that something was going to happen when he got the ball.
Things started to heat up again around the hour mark, with some great chances for both teams. Sanches, who came on just after half time, gave himself every opportunity to score with some great passing but missed to the left. Vida had a great chance from Darijo Srna’s free kick, but the header went wide. A couple of minutes later Nani was played through by Adrien Silva, and he appealed for a penalty as Vida cleared the ball. The Portuguese support had been raucous throughout, and they went up another level as Carlos Vellasco Carballo waved play on. Ronaldo had a chance when he was played through, but Vida beat him in the air. Then play petered out again until the end of normal time.
Ronaldo shot. It was low, it was hard, and Subasic dropped to the ground quickly. Not quite quickly enough, as it turned out. The Monaco keeper hadn’t really been worked all day, and while he stopped Ronaldo’s shot the ball popped up, hanging over the goalmouth.
Extra time began with more activity. Perisic hit the top netting with a looping header. Nikola Kalinic missed the target after breaking through the Portuguese defence. Perisic found the space to put in a shot, but he could not hit the target. Marko Pjaca injected some more pace into the Croatian attack, and Vida nearly scored when he caught Rui Patricio out of position. The header went over the bar. Croatia were putting Portugal under plenty of pressure and looked like scoring when Sanches made his break.
The ball was still hanging in the air when Ricardo Quaresma got to it. It was sitting up in the centre of the goals, about a metre out. Quaresma, who had come on to the field as a substitute for Joao Mario, could not have had it any easier. The header was comfortably put away, and Portugal took the lead with three minutes to go.
Croatia pushed as hard as they could, and Vida had a brilliant chance in injury time when he nearly scored with a volley. He flew to meet the ball in at the back post, but his attempt drifted across the face of the goal. It proved to be the last chance of the game, and the final whistle blew as Patricio’s goal kick flew across field.
Lens – Stade Bollaert-Delelis
Portugal 1 (Ricardo Quaresma 117) (a.e.t.)
Referee: Carlos Vellasco Carballo (Esp)
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic – Srna, Corluka (Kramaric 120), Vida, Strinic; Modric, Badelj; Brozovic, Rakitic (Pjaca 110), Perisic; Mandzukic (N Kalinic 88).
Portugal (4-4-2): Rui Patricio – Cedric, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Joao Mario (Ricardo Quaresma 87), Adrien Silva (Danilo 108), William Carvalho, Andre Gomes (Renato Sanches 50); Nani, Ronaldo.
1. Renato Sanches (Portugal)
Sanches came on as a second-half substitute and was a cut above the rest, showing great skill and dealing with the pressure brilliantly. He was very effective on the counter attack, especially in the latter stages, and he played a great all-round game. There were some disciplinary problems, but he changed the game and was the best player on the ground.
2. Domagoj Vida (Croatia)
Vida dealt very capably with the Portuguese attack, especially when they took control in the second half. He was able to deny both Nani and Ronaldo in one-on-one situations, and he cut out plenty of Portuguese attacks. He proved to be a significant threat in attack as well, and he nearly scored from set pieces on a number of occasions.
3. Pepe (Portugal)
Pepe had a solid game at the heart of the Portuguese defence, cutting out plenty of Croatian passes and ensuring that Portugal did not concede. He had the first real chance of the game when he found space inside the Croatian box, and his defensive work was solid throughout. He played a good game, and looks to be in good form leading into the quarter-finals.
4. Marcelo Brozovic (Croatia)
Brozovic roamed around between midfield and attack and created plenty of chances with his runs down the right wing. He had plenty of the ball and went close to scoring when he received the ball from a quickly-taken corner. His pace nearly caught Portugal out on a number of occasions, and he was one of Croatia’s best.
5. Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Perisic was not at his best, but he provided a significant threat to the Portuguese with his pace and ability to get in behind. He had some excellent chances and was able to make his way into some great scoring positions. He was one of the best players for the Croatians, and he played a solid game on the wing.