Ronaldo Scores and 16-Year-Old Halilovic Debuts as Portugal Beat Croatia

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Ronaldo Scores and 16-Year-Old Halilovic Debuts as Portugal Beat Croatia
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Portugal manager Paulo Bento took the opportunity to shuffle the deck for Monday’s friendly against Croatia, making changes in goal, defense, midfield and attack.

But it was a familiar face who did the business for the Seleccao in Geneva—Cristiano Ronaldo scored the only goal of the match nine minutes before the break.

Having failed to open the scoring in the 18th minute after being set up nicely by Fabio Coentrao, the 28-year-old made no such mistake with his finish in the 39th, as his low, hard shot found the bottom corner inside the near post

Deputising right-back Silvio Manuel Pereira had done well to bring the ball into a deep position, but it was Silvestre Varela’s clever touch from the resulting cross that played in his captain just inside the 18-yard box.

It was Ronaldo’s final meaningful contribution to the match as he was substituted at half-time, and with his exit went much of the momentum Portugal had managed to build.

Croatia began the second period with purpose, but try as they might, they simply could not find a breakthrough.

For the Blazers, the biggest talking point of the evening proved to be the introduction of Dinamo Zagreb playmaker Alen Halilovic, who, upon replacing Ivan Strinic five minutes after the restart, became his country’s youngest ever senior international.

The change nearly paid off with a goal as well.

With four minutes remaining Halilovic, who had nearly put Ivan Perisic through to score eight minutes earlier, had a go at the Portugal net, only to be denied by a diving Eduardo da Silva.

Portugal, who will next face the Netherlands in an August 14 friendly before resuming their World Cup qualifying campaign against Northern Ireland on September 6, will no doubt be pleased with their second victory in four days (they beat Russia 1-0 in Lisbon, Friday), although Bento will surely have preferred to have seen his side create more offense in both games.

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
Luka Modric struggled to create meaningful chances for Croatia against Portugal.

Scorelines involving Portugal often take on the look of binary code as they maintain a tight, defensive line but struggle to find the back of the net themselves.

To that end, Deportivo La Coruna striker Nelson Oliveira—who starred at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia—was introduced in the 76th minute, although he failed to make any sort of impact in his 14-minute cameo appearance.

Croatia, meanwhile, have now lost back-to-back matches (they were defeated by Scotland on Friday) and failed to score in both.

They’ll visit Serbia in a crucial World Cup qualifying match on September 6—five days before a showdown with bracket leaders Belgium.

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