Croatia 0-1 Portugal: Analysing a close tactical battle as late goal sees Croatia bow out of Euro 2016

It may not have been the most thrilling game of EURO 2016, but there was plenty for the football purists to take in as Portugal advanced to the quarter finals thanks to a late winner from Ricardo Quaresma.

Croatia 0-1 Portugal: Analysing a close tactical battle as late goal sees Croatia bow out of Euro 2016
This was a familiar sight for Croatian fans as they watched their team exit Euro 2016 early. (Photo:

Similar set-up once again from Vatreni

Ante Čačić made five changes to the Croatia side that defeated Spain in their final group game, with Tin Jedvaj, Sime Vrsaljko, Marko Rog, Marko Pjaca and Nikola Kalinic being replaced by Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mario Mandzukic in Croatia's standard 4-2-3-1 formation.

They faced an orthodox Portugal in a 4-4-2 set-up, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Nani spearheading the attack. The extra man in the Croatian midfield allowed Čačić's side to have the majority of possession, seeing 58% of the ball over the full 120 minutes. 

Both sides relied on crosses into the area as they attempted to create chances, although one shot on target in 120 minutes showed that the final ball was particularly poor, as players, usually high in quality, failed to deliver any meaningful passes to the forwards throughout the game. Set-pieces created the best opportunities of the game for Croatia, with Vida having the clearest of their chances from two free-kicks just outside of the penalty area.

Mandzukic is a player who is well known around Europe for his strength and aerial ability, but he was arriving into the box far too late and did not compete for any balls in the 18 yard area, with this being the place his team-mates needed him most.

Overlapping full backs has been a theme of Croatia's play over all four of their matches in Euro 2016, and tonight was no different as both Darijo Srna and Strinic looked to overlap the wingers and offer an option out wide in attack. Čačić has seen much better in the final third in the three previous games though, as the final ball lacked quality.

Croatia's set-pieces were unable to see them through on the night. (Photo:
Croatia's set-pieces were unable to see them through on the night. (Photo:

Set-pieces unable to provide clear chances for Croatia

Milan Badelj and Modric did a solid job when it came to holding on to the ball in the middle of the pitch, although there were no driving runs from deep as they had perhaps been told to sit in front of the centre-backs to stop the counter-attacking threat of Nani and Ronaldo once the full-backs had pushed forwards. Their job was to simply recycle the ball and try to feed the attackers who would then look to run with the ball and press the Portugal defence back towards their own goal.

Perhaps they could have attacked through the middle of the pitch a little more during the game, as their opponents 4-4-2 formation allowed them a great deal of space and time on the ball in central areas. Mandzukic was under-utlised over the course of the game and when he was replaced by Kalinic later on this did not change too much, with the final ball simply being too poor for either striker to affect the game whilst on the pitch.

The second period of extra-time saw a few more gaps open up in certain areas of the pitch, although Croatia still could not get in behind the Portuguese defence in order to create a clear cut chance, meaning they remained reliant on set-pieces which could only see them miss the target by a whisker on a couple of occasions via Vida.

Pushing the full-backs forward proved to be their downfall in the end however, as a counter-attack in the 117th minute saw Nani find an unmarked Ronaldo at the back post before his shot rebounded to Quaresma for a simple finish from a mere yard away from goal. It was an unfortunate way for one of the tournament's more impressive sides to exit the competition, but Croatia will simply have to accept that on this occasion their tactics just couldn't see them through to the quarter-finals.