Portugal substitute Ricardo Quaresma’s extra-time winner left coach Fernando Santos praising his team for executing his orders after a tactical game of cat-and-mouse with a Croatia side many tipped to win Euro 2016. (RESULTS | STANDINGS)
Portugal soaked up enormous pressure, with Quaresma heading Cristiano Ronaldo’s parried shot into an empty net in the 117th minute to secure a 1-0 win and put them into the quarter-finals against Poland.
“It was a very tactical match. Portugal tried to take over but Croatia didn’t let us, but when they tried to take over we didn’t let them,” Santos told reporters. “You have to look at both sides of the coin. We faced an amazing team.”
Portugal conceded possession to Croatia for long spells, but the fact that neither side managed a shot on target until Ronaldo’s late effort that led to the goal shows how well the respective teams’ defensive plans worked.
“We were prepared,” Santos added. “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.
The intriguing tactical battle led to few chances, but Santos made no apologies for how the game looked as a spectacle.
“Sometimes we’d like to play a pretty game, but that’s not always how you win tournaments. We have evolved in some aspects, and that’s what we want to do.”
Portugal next face a clash on Thursday in Marseille against Poland, who beat Switzerland on penalties earlier on Saturday after that game finished 1-1, for a place in the semi-finals.
“If they’re in the final eight here, they must be a very strong team. I saw the match, Poland played better, then Switzerland went up for a bit. In extra time it was very balanced.
“We played Poland in 2012, (striker Robert) Lewandowski is a very good player, almost all their players play in the Bundesliga. It is going to be a very tough match…” he said.