Euro 2016

Last-gasp winner redeems Quaresma

Above: Portugal's Ricardo Quaresma (in green) nodding in the extra-time winner, after Croatia's Danijel Subasic could only parry Cristiano Ronaldo's shot into his path. The substitute's goal was enough to give Portugal their first victory in France s
Portugal's Ricardo Quaresma (in green) nodding in the extra-time winner, after Croatia's Danijel Subasic could only parry Cristiano Ronaldo's shot into his path. The substitute's goal was enough to give Portugal their first victory in France so far, and a place in the quarter-finals. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Above: Portugal's Ricardo Quaresma (in green) nodding in the extra-time winner, after Croatia's Danijel Subasic could only parry Cristiano Ronaldo's shot into his path. The substitute's goal was enough to give Portugal their first victory in France s
Quaresma (right) celebrating his goal with back-up goalkeeper Eduardo. The winger's goal may go some way towards him getting into coach Fernando Santos' good books again after an insipid display against Austria in the group phase. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Winger's winner with game's first shot on goal puts behind years of underachievement

LENS • Portugal relied on one, late, moment of class to grab their first victory at Euro 2016 and move into the last eight with a 1-0 win over Croatia, despite failing to hit the target for almost two hours and struggling to build any cohesive attacks.

With both teams oozing talent, fans were expecting fireworks in a game pitting the scoring prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo against the playmaking abilities of fellow Champions League winner and Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric.

Instead they got to see two hours of cagey, nervy football with only one shot on target amid some shocking finishing until the mercurial Ricardo Quaresma lit up the stadium with his winner three minutes from the end of extra time.

All eyes were on Ronaldo but, for almost the entire game, he was nowhere to be seen, shut out by two or three Croats at all times.

Winger Nani was equally subdued, as he tried to find space but ended up crashing against a wall of defenders every time.

OUT OF LUCK

We dominated the game but we didn't score. So the best team lost. It happens in football.

ANTE CACIC, Croatia coach, on their last-16 defeat by Portugal.


WE MADE OUR OWN LUCK

You have to look at both sides of the coin. We faced an amazing team but we were prepared.

FERNANDO SANTOS, Portugal coach, on their victory.

But as always, Ronaldo dug deep into his reserves to charge up in support on the right and Nani picked him out with a clever, threaded low cross.

The Portuguese captain's shot from a tight angle was blocked by keeper Danijel Subasic's quick reflexes but Quaresma, brought on in the 87th minute, was on hand to nod in the rebound and set up a quarter-final with Poland.

It was not supposed to be Quaresma's game and certainly not his tournament, with coach Fernando Santos having hauled him off after he failed to follow tactical instructions in their 0-0 draw against Austria in the group stage. The winger was also berated in public.

The 32-year-old, who made the squad after reviving his career with a second spell at Turkey's Besiktas, has long been seen by critics as having failed to make the most of his talent in a topsy-turvy career punctuated by tantrums.

Raised at the Sporting Lisbon youth academy at the same time as Ronaldo, many felt then that Quaresma was the more likely of the pair to set the sport alight.

Instead, Ronaldo went on to become a three-time World Player of the Year and scoop endless trophies, while Quaresma's misfortunes included being kicked out of Besiktas for indiscipline and missing out on three successive World Cups.

However, the lack of luck was felt most dearly by Croatia coach Ante Cacic.

"We dominated the game but we didn't score," the beaten coach said. "So the best team lost. It happens in football."

His opposite number, Santos, thought it was a very tactical match.

"We tried to take over but Croatia didn't let us but when they tried to take over, we didn't let them," the Portuguese told reporters.

"You have to look at both sides of the coin. We faced an amazing team but we were prepared.

"I got the team ready to fight against Croatia's strengths and to make the best of (exposing) their weaknesses. We didn't let them counter, we paid special attention to that."

Santos praised Croatia's desire to play their brand of football, even if it ultimately proved unsuccessful.

And he had to thank Quaresma, who was again left on the bench before making the most of a brief substitute appearance that will live long in the memory of Portuguese fans.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Last-gasp winner redeems Quaresma'. Print Edition | Subscribe