Portugal began a successful defence of their UEFA Nations League title with a 4-1 victory over Croatia in Porto.
The hosts were all over Croatia in the first half, hitting the post three times and drawing several excellent saves out of Dominik Livakovic. The Croats eventually cracked four minutes before half-time when Joao Cancelo cut infield and hit a long shot that Livakovic could only tip into the top corner.
Diogo Jota added another early in the second half with a smart finish after a chipped through pass by Raphael Guerreiro. With twenty minutes to go Joao Felix drilled in a third that went through Livakovic. Bruno Petkovic slotted a consolation for Croatia in injury time, before Andre Silva added another for the home side.
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Portugal will now travel to Solna to play Sweden in the second round of group matches on Tuesday, while Croatia head to Paris to take on France.
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Can Portugal retain their European titles? The Portuguese manager Fernando Santos might have thought his time in charge of the national side had peaked with victory at Euro 2016 and in the inaugural Nations League last summer. On the evidence of tonight, he has a young team talented enough to challenge for major titles in the coming years too. Portugal’s front four and their full-backs linked up brilliantly here, and they still have Cristiano Ronaldo to add to this when he recovers from his injury.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)
That Manchester United had a free run at signing him in January now seems like the rest of Europe’s elite teams made a huge oversight. Fernandes was at the heart of all of Portugal’s neat interplay in Porto. With a drive that informs and inspires those around him, he looks set to be a decisive force at club and international level in the future.
Portugal (4-3-3): Lopes 6; Cancelo 7, Pepe 6, Dias 6, Guerreiro 7; Moutinho 7, Pereira 6, Fernandes 8; Jota 7, Joao Felix 7, Bernardo Silva 7. SUBS: Trincao 6, Oliveira 6, Andre Silva 6
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Livakovic 7; Barisic 6, Vida 6, Lovren 5, Jedvaj 5; Kovacic 6, Pasalic 6; Rebic 6, Vlasic 5, Brekalo 6; Kramaric 6. SUBS: Perisic 6, Brozavic 6, Petkovic 7
22’ OFF THE POST! A 20-yard drive from Felix catches a deflection and hits the post with Livakovic stranded. The goalkeeper then makes a brilliant save as Guerreiro booms in the rebound from a tight angle. Portugal are seriously knocking here.
41’ GOAL! Portugal 1 (Cancelo 41) Croatia 0 It's not so much been coming as been inevitable. Cancelo dances across the face of the Croat area and shoots with his left foot from 20 yards out. Livakovic gets a hand to it, but only fingertips as it flies into the top corner. A superb goal.
58’ GOAL! Portugal 2 (Jota 58) Croatia 0 It's two. Guerreiro stands a lovely ball over the head of Jedvaj and Jota is in on goal. He cuts in from the left of the penalty area and tucks a low shot underneath Livakovic.
70’ GOAL! Portugal 3 (Joao Felix 70) Croatia 0 Joao Felix gets in on the act now. Bernardo Silva has all the time in the world to square it to him on the edge of the box, and Joao Felix wallops a shot that goes through the grasp of Livakovic and bounces high into the net.
90+ 1’ GOAL! Portugal 3 Croatia 1 (Petkovic 90+1') A consolation for the visitors as a lovely flicked pass releases Petkovic into the Portuguese area, and he tucks a low finish into the net.
90+4’ GOAL! Portugal 4 (Andre Silva 90+4) Croatia 1 It's a drubbing. Pepe glances a corner to the back post, where Andre Silva slides in to divert the ball into the net from inches out.
- Diogo Jota and Joao Felix scored their first ever international goals for Portugal.
- Croatia have never beaten Portugal, having drawn one and lost five of their six encounters to date.
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