Croatia played their first game following the 2018 World Cup in an international friendly against Portugal.
They lined up in their typical 4-3-3 (which was presented as 4-2-3-1 on paper), with Modrić and Kovačić flanking defensive midfielder Milan Badelj.
Portugal went with a fluid 4-2-3-1 and manager Fernando Santos ordered Pizzi to take up positions between the lines ahead of a Rúben Neves-William Carvalho double-pivot.
Perhaps surprisingly, Portugal were the better side and held onto the larger share of possession in the first half. Bruma made the most of it in the early going thanks to his direct nature, willingness to cut inside, and impressive close control. This led to some early chances, such as a Neves free-kick that clipped the post the most notable.
After Croatia scored against the run of play thanks to a high pressing action (something Dalić’s men attempted periodically throughout the game), Portugal began to slow things down and focused on reaching the right flank to penetrate through team play. To this end, Ruben Neves’ and William Carvalho’s press resistance efforts were impressive and they regularly found playmaker Bernardo Silva near the touchline. Once the Manchester City player had the ball, he caused genuine trouble by cutting inside to shoot, pass, or slip in reverse balls to João Cancelo bursting down the overlap.
Eventually, the Selecção got the reward for their sustained offensive pressure through a Pepe goal off of a set-piece.
In the second half, Portugal took up a more defensive posture and looked to stay compact in a 4-4-2 structure. This gave Croatia more of the ball, something they were unable to take advantage of. The indisciplined shape of their midfield while in possession - a common theme under Dalić - made it difficult to progress through the middle and any switches of play out wide were mostly dealt with comfortably.
Thus, Croatia’s inefficiency in possession and Santos’ solid defensive organization led to a goalless second half that ensured a 1-1 draw between the sides.
Real Madrid Player Watch
The newly crowned UEFA Player of the Year did not put in his best performance vs. Portugal. He looked rather sluggish and many of his cleverer passes failed to come off. It was his counterpart Kovačić who looked more involved and in control of proceedings as the game went on. As a result, Luka came off in the 55th minute.
As mentioned earlier, Kovačić had the better game when compared to Modrić. Besides getting lots of touches and helping to circulate play, the young loanee had more than a couple of moments where he burst past two to three players like they weren’t there before either: executing a through ball, sliding a pass to a man in an advanced position, or initiating combinations. He also managed an excellent shot in the 11 minute mark before playing his part in the pressing action that led to their goal 420 seconds later.