Patient Portugal turning over new leaf
Portugal 1 Croatia 0
Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30
Portugal have won only one game at Euro 2016 so far and that was one in which they scored with their first and only chance after almost two hours of defending and waiting.
They are not playing in the way fans are used to seeing Portuguese teams play - with invention, imagination and midfield quality. But in this open Euros of closed football, Portugal look like a perfect fit.
They go to Marseille on Thursday for a quarter-final against a Poland side with whom they have much in common - strong organisation, physical power and one of the best goalscorers in the world.
It has been enough to get them this far and they certainly have a good chance of making the Lyon semi-final for which they would be well-placed, too.
In the course of the 27 seconds between Rui Patricio saving Ivan Perisic's header on Saturday night and Ricardo Quaresma scoring.
Portugal went from being the most fortunate of the third-placed qualifiers to very plausible finalists.
That Portugal did so playing minimalistic, reactive football is perfectly fitting with a tournament where that has been the trend.
Croatia had been the best footballing team of the group stages, but Portugal just sat deep and shut them down.
Not even Luka Modric could find a way through and soon Croatia stopped believing in their ability to do so.
It was Portuguese faith in the strategy of manager Fernando Santos which gave them the edge - as right-back Cedric Soares explained afterwards.
"We prepared for the game well," he said. "Our strategy was strong. We waited for the mistake and in the end we scored one goal. It was a fantastic, amazing feeling.
"When you believe in something you are closer to achieving it. Our team believes very much that we can achieve something here."
Santos has spent much of his career working in Greece, with the big clubs there and the Greek national team, and he has brought something of that low-risk football to Portugal - even if it means not making the most of the talented players they have.
"Santos is a very intelligent manager," Soares said. "He observes the game and he gives us the best information. I think we showed we were very well prepared for this game."
Santos used his bench well, better than Ante Cacic, bringing on Renato Sanches who launched the counter that won the game and Quaresma, who converted it.
Croatia could only wonder how they had managed to lose faith in themselves and fold so badly.