Portugal head into this clash with just one loss in 16 matches since the last World Cup, during which time they triumphed in the inaugural Nations League.
Seven of their last eight have now ended in victory as the exception saw Ukraine claim an unexpected win in Kiev, though the Eastern European nation impressed in Euro qualifiers as they topped their pool, remaining unbeaten as they conceded just four times in eight games.
Although Portugal have won most of their recent outings, it’s worth noting the standard of opposition has been largely flimsy and we wouldn’t pay too much attention to how they got on when facing the likes of Luxembourg and Lithuania.
Going back to June 2018, Portugal are W4-D6-L2 up against the best sides they’ve encountered (Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uruguay). The most notable thing about these fixtures is how close they were, with all but one separated by just the single strike if at all.
Portugal To Win By One Goal
Only three of Croatia’s last 14 appearances since October 2018 have been settled by more than one goal either, with those coming as they beat Slovakia (twice) and Hungary during their European qualifiers.
There were also only three matches versus real quality in this spell as they drew 0-0 hosting England, won 3-2 hosting Spain and suffered a 2-1 defeat back at Wembley.
Croatia are certainly a stronger force on home turf where they’re W20-D4-L1 since the 2014 World Cup. However, they’re not as good away from home and are a poor W1-D3-L3 in seven trips since the 2018 World Cup, including stalemates with Azerbaijan and Wales in their past two.
It’s understandable that Croatia’s standards dropped a bit following the retirement of some players after reaching the World Cup final.
None of goalkeeper Danijel Saubasic, defenders Ivan Strinic and Vedran Corluka, as well as striker Mario Mandzukic have featured for the national side since then, leaving some big holes, while head coach Zlatko Dalic is also without vastly experienced midfield duo Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for this clash too.
Those last two players have provided control from the middle of the park, which has been invaluable to Croatia’s best results.
Their absences encourage us to get behind Portugal in the outright, especially as Fernando Santos has the vast majority of his first team players to work with, including of course Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be seeking his 100th international goal here.