Lens: Croatia coach Ante Cacic believes his side can shut out Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo to reach the Euro 2016 quarter-finals on Saturday.
Ronaldo struck a double to become the first player to score in four separate European championships and rescue Portugal from an embarrassing early exit in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary on Wednesday.
In contrast to Croatia’s impressive route to the last 16 by beating two-time defending champions Spain to top spot in Group D, Portugal are the only side left in the competition yet to win a game in France.
“Of course we have to take care and defend well against Portugal, a team with great individual qualities,” said Cacic.
“Ronaldo is their main player, the aim is not to allow them to show how strong he is, we have to limit him.”
The Croatia boss made five changes to his side for the stunning 2-1 win over Spain in Bordeaux on Tuesday, but is set to name an even stronger side for the clash in Lens with star midfielder Luka Modric and striker Mario Mandzukic likely to return from injury.
“I cannot say if they are fit to play 90 minutes, but everything looks good,” added Cacic.
Both sides have a golden opportunity to land their first major international trophy after landing on the much softer side of an unbalanced draw, avoiding any of the traditional giants Germany, France, Spain, Italy and England.
Croatia’s best previous showing came with third place at the 1998 World Cup, also held in France, and midfielder Milan Badelj believes this generation can go even further.
“It is funny for the media to compare the generation from 1998. They achieved a great result, third in the World Cup is not easy, and we will do everything to repeat their success.”
– Portugal coach on defensive -Portugal’s preparation has been hit by the double blow of having the shortest rest time of any of the 16 teams left in the competition and a nightmare journey north from their training base in the outskirts of Paris to Lens.
Ronaldo and his team-mates spent over four hours on their team bus due to Parisian traffic on the eve of the match, having played in sweltering conditions in Lyon on Wednesday.
However, coach Fernando Santos defended his decision to train at their base in Marcoussis on Friday morning rather than training in Lens.
“I would make the same decision, it was important to rest in the morning, sleeping at this stage is essential to recover.
“We had our training at 11am after 10 hours’ sleep, the players then went back to their rooms and rested, but that won’t prevent us from being ready to play tomorrow.”
Three draws saw Portugal sneak through in third place of Group F behind surprise package Hungary and Iceland, on their debut in a major finals.
However, Santos believes his side deserved more from their performances and will benefit from the knockout format against more offensive opponents.
“You have to look at these matches, we were better than Iceland, much better than Austria and better than Hungary.
“Maybe we couldn’t score the chances we had, and also because we conceded. It’s hard to score three times (against Hungary) and not win the match.
“If we had seven points we would have a different opponent and play a few days later, but we would still be in the knockout stages.
“If we continue to draw and reach the final (on penalties) it is no problem.”