Both sides like to keep the ball, but the approach has brought differing success for each…

As Croatia and Portugal prepare to meet in the Round of 16 in France, it’s a contest that provides the clash of similar styles and differing rewards. Both teams like to keep the ball and work an opening in the final third. But, their respective roads to this tussle could not be more contrasting. Now, they meet for the right to a place in the last eight, knowing that there’s no more room for mistakes.

Croatia came from behind to beat favourites Spain 2-1 on Matchday 3 and thus topped Group D. Their only hiccup so far has been the 2-2 draw against Czech Republic, where they threw away a two goal lead in the last 15 minutes of the game. With their group stage exit at Brazil 2014 still fresh in memory, Portugal have been disappointing once again. Tame draws against Iceland and Austria were followed by a seesawing affair against Hungary which saw them rescue a priceless point thanks to talisman Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics. With three draws from their three group games the Seleccao were lucky to sneak into the knockouts through the proverbial backdoor. However, now that they are there, Fernando Santos’ men will be keen to make full use of the opportunity.

STAT: Cristiano Ronaldo needs one goal to draw level with Michel Platini as the all-time leading goalscorer at the European Championships.(Picture Courtesy: UEFA)

Croatia, have been arguably the best team of the tournament so far. Imaginative and clinical in attack as well as organized and solid at the back. Ante Cacic’s side were particularly impressive as they passed their test of character against Spain with flying colours. Once again the responsibility to make the side tick will fall on the midfield pairing of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, while the likes of Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic will present a potent goal threat.

Much was expected from Portugal’s youngsters ahead of this tournament. But, starlets like Joao Mario, Renato Sanches and Andre Gomes have flattered to deceive. So, it has been left to experienced heads like Nani, Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma to carry the torch. The youngsters will now have to step up if Portugal are to shine on the big stage.

Given that both sides are likely to enjoy their fair share of the ball it will come down to who makes most effective use of if it in the key areas. Portugal do not possess an out and out No. 9 so Ronaldo will be tasked with leading the line. However, they will also be looking to make use of rapid transitions to utilize their pace on the wings, One of the worrying aspects of Portugal’s displays so far has been their erroneous finishing. The men from Lisbon have accumulated 70 goal attempts in three games, of which a mere 21 have been on target. With the opposition set to get tougher chances will be at a premium and their efficiency in front of goal simply must improve if they are to progress.

Croatia go into the game as clear favourites. But, that notwithstanding, the abundant individual brilliance on both sides should make for a fine evening of football, hopefully, graced by a contest to savour.

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Preview by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.