Croatia vs Portugal

Croatia would field a significantly weaker squad in this final match, however much of their patterns of play & strategies would remain the same.

Jarni & Simic would provide the attacking width in the match, both of which had specific instructions to enter the final third & play penetrative passes where possible.

Both Jurcevic & Prosinecki would offer a variety of attacking threat throughout the match, with both very comfortable in carrying the ball forward & threading through balls for strikers.

Pamic would take up the target man role acting as a link between midfield and the forward line, working in service of Vloavic who’s movement saw him attack the space on the high line behind the Portugal defence.

Croatia Attacking Structure

Portugal would use a clearer 442 diamond system in this match, acting in a more conservative defensive shape and then showing their creativity in moments of transition.

Sa Pinto & Joao Pinto formed a more traditional strike partnership up front, with each having the license to work creatively to find the ball. Their understanding was best illustrated by how well they complement each other’s movements.

Rui Costa remains Portugal’s most influential creative player, showing a variety of combination play further complimented by his ability to carry the ball in tight spaces.

Figo & Sousa would compliment the attack well, both quality footballers on the ball who can find good space consistently. Perhaps the biggest surprise package was Oceano, who had previously taken up a defensive role, but today offered impressive dynamic movements to support the play in attack as well as defence.

Portugal Starting X1


Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

Portugal’s approach to this match differed slightly to that of Croatia, with their strategy favoring a more conservative counter attacking game. This was actually evidenced really nicely in the timeline, as the early goal served to increase their pragmatism, before a period at the end of the 1st half where they would begin to turn up the heat & attack more frequently when they had the cushion of a 2nd goal.

Croatia were clearly inconsistent in the 1st half, going through several small spikes followed up with baron periods of no attacks. I believe much of this was down to the significant rotation of key squad members, with their replacements simply unable to deliver the same level of quality.

Chance Quality:

This is one of the first matches within the group stage that has brought about a team outscoring their opponent with expected goals, but losing the match. More context will be provided within as to why we feel this took place.

I had criticized Portugal for not being clinical enough in front of goal in their previous two games, but this certainly could not be levelled at them in this match. Two goals from their first two attacks is impressive at any level, added to that both were “Big Chances” (A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score).

Croatia’s first half brought a real mix bag of chances & required attention at half time. The coach put the appropriate measures in place and as such we saw an almost 200% increase in expected goals over the next 45 minutes.

Type of Chances Created

From the key pass location map we can see straight away that Croatia favored attacking via crosses from wide areas, which in some instances would create decent chances for their forwards, however the most damning statistic is comes from their attacks on target ratio which after 90 minutes stood at 28%. Clearly we can blame finishing for the poor return, but from 21 attacks we saw 13 were created by a teammate, this would therefore lead us to believe that chance creation wasn’t up to scratch.

Portugal’s approach play saw them use more transitions, more dribbles from their players, and most importantly a greater reliance on thinking instinctively. Perhaps too much of Portugal’s play in the opening two matches had been overly elaborate, maybe a slicker approach with less time on the ball helped them to get a better result? The first goal came from an early cross into the middle, finding Figo who had made a run into space. A goal that felt very similar to Sa Pinto’s goal to open the competition against Denmark. Maybe there is food for thought in this to show the coach they do have another string to their attacking bow.

Where Chances are Created

Croatia’s scatter gun approach in the second half was born out of a desire to not get humiliated after a very poor opening 45 minutes. Clearly the coach has made an error in judgement by making so many changes, so the late resurgence comes from Portugal taking their foot off the gas & Croatia attempting to redeem some credibility.

Portugal wouldn’t create as many attacks as Croatia, however they were certainly more clinical when it mattered. From their 7 box attacks three would be converted into goals, with the remaining four missing the target. To return a slightly less expected goals value (1.46 – 1.11), but doing so from almost half the attacks, is something they can take away as a positive.  One area a modern staff would need to consider however, is that their xGOT (expected goals  from chances that laded on target) would only come back at 0.11. This equates to about 10% of your chance creation falling on target, and from here giving yourself a further 10% chance of scoring a goal.

Who Created Chances

Portugal’s best statistical performer in this match, rather surprisingly, was Luis Figo. Figo was someone that I personally would say is performing below what we would expect of him headed into this tournament, but he would have an involvement in 4 attacks within this game and score the opening goal. He would also return an xG of 0.31 (almost a third of his teams output), and all of his chances would land on target.

Croatia’s best performer was Goran Vlaovic, who was involved in 5 attacks during the game. While he couldn’t break the deadlock his expected goals totaled 0.41, showing us that he gave himself a 40% chance of scoring from what was created.

Match Predictor

Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.

Our verdict:

I am surprised that the disparity between the teams score is so advanced, however we do have to consider that Croatia registered 21 attacks to Portugal’s 12, and Portugal’s xG return was somewhat paper thin. The draw actually looks like a decent bet on any other day which, given the variables of team selection, could have saw a vastly different result.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

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