Euro 2016: Portugal on shark alert against Croatia

Coach Santos wary of Croatia, who defeated Spain, and hopes Ronaldo will shine yet again

ROUND OF 16

Croatia v Portugal

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LENS • Cristiano Ronaldo awoke from his Euro 2016 slumber in time to rescue Portugal from an early exit, but the football superstar faces a greater challenge against a classy Croatia side whom Portugal coach Fernando Santos has called "sharks".

Today, when the two teams clash in the last 16, the Portuguese forward - on eight goals - will aim to better French legend Michel Platini's mark of nine in European Championships.

But it will not be easy for him to achieve that against an outfit who shocked two-time defending champions Spain to top Group D.

Ronaldo, though, refused to accept that Portugal are the underdogs.

"We made it (to the last 16 with third place in Group F) and now we face a very good team, but the odds are 50-50," he said.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (front) and Ricardo Quaresma during training at the team's base camp in Marcoussis, south of Paris.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (front) and Ricardo Quaresma during training at the team's base camp in Marcoussis, south of Paris. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"Croatia are a tough team, with good players. Not every team can beat Spain. We respect them but we know our strengths."

Croatia are likely to be stronger for today's clash in Lille than they were against Spain with Ronaldo's Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric set to return from injury.

Juventus frontman Mario Mandzukic is also likely to shake off a knock to retake his place after Croatia coach Ante Cacic made five changes for the historic win over Spain.

"Croatia are one of the sharks we had been trying to avoid," admitted Santos.

"They placed first in a group with Spain, which tells you all you need to know about them."

However, Santos has placed his faith in Ronaldo to again answer his country's call after his double strike against Hungary in Portugal's previous match.

"He's a confident player, but this will have boosted him for the game against Croatia," said the coach.

A BLOODY ENCOUNTER

Croatia are one of the sharks we had been trying to avoid. They placed first in a group with Spain, which tells you all you need to know about them.

FERNANDO SANTOS, Portugal coach, on facing Croatia in the last 16.

Winger Nani, set to make his 100th appearance for Portugal against Croatia, said that Ronaldo comes good every time he is faced with a difficult situation.

"Everyone knows Cristiano and what he can do at any time. I am 100 per cent sure he will go on and score more goals now," said Nani.

"He is a fantastic player. He showed it again against Hungary when everyone was talking about him - he has shut them all up now."

For Croatia, a bright start to a tournament in France has rekindled memories of their fairy-tale run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998 before losing out to the hosts 1-2.

Ivan Perisic was the hero against Spain, drilling home the winner three minutes from time.

However, Croatia cannot get carried away despite finding themselves in the weaker half of the draw and avoiding Germany, France, Italy, Spain or England until the final.

"We made a really great job in the group stages, but this is just the beginning. If we lose the next match this doesn't mean anything," Perisic said. "We have to stay at the same level and fight as we did in the first three matches."

Reserve striker Nikola Kalinic reckons that "if we play like we did in the group stage, we have a great chance of progressing".

He added: "We are one of the best teams here and, if our midfield wins the battle in the centre of the pitch, we should win."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Portugal on shark alert'. Print Edition | Subscribe