Football

'We're more than just Ronaldo'

Santos insists Portugal have other weapons of mass destruction to hurt 'sharks' Croatia

ROUND OF 16

CROATIA v PORTUGAL

(Tomorrow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

Cristiano Ronaldo awoke from his Euro 2016 slumber in time to rescue Portugal from an early exit, but faces a greater challenge against a classy Croatia side that Portugal coach Fernando Santos called "sharks".

Ronaldo made history as the first player to score in four European Championships, with a double in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary on Wednesday.

The result saw Portugal just squeeze through, behind Iceland and Hungary, in third place in Group F.

The Real Madrid star has more records in his sights, as he is just one goal behind French legend Michel Platini's mark of nine in European Championship Finals.

"Croatia are one of the sharks we had been trying to avoid," admitted Portugal boss Santos, ahead of the Round-of-16 clash against Croatia in Lens tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

"They placed first in a group with Spain, which tells you all you need to know about them."

However, Santos has placed his faith in Ronaldo to again answer his country's call after his double strike.

"This will have increased his confidence levels. He's a confident player anyway, but this will have boosted him for the next game against Croatia," said Santos.

The 61-year-old Santos insists not all of his decisions revolve around Ronaldo, despite setting his team up to get the most out of their captain.

The 4-3-3 has been the typical formation for Portugal in recent years, but Santos has recently moved to a line-up with two central attackers.

For all three Euro 2016 group games - none of which the Iberian nation managed to win - Ronaldo started alongside Luis Nani at centre forward in a 4-4-2.

Asked if his decision to change systems was because it suits Ronaldo, Santos told L'Equipe: "It is, but not just for this. Not everything revolves around Cristiano Ronaldo, even if he is important for our team.

"Cristiano is not a winger or a striker. That's why, in the quest for the balance that we lacked, we can find a better compromise in a 4-4-2.

"If we put Cristiano as a striker (in a 4-3-3), it will take away some of his potential, it will reduce his qualities. This is not imaginable.

"But if he is placed on the left, you are exposed to defensive problems.

"So Cristiano is better when in a position where he can attack the defence and the goal. This is one of his characteristics - he needs space and freedom."

Ronaldo refused to accept that Portugal are underdogs against a Croatia side that shocked two-time defending champions Spain to top Group D.

"We made it and now we face a very good team, but the odds are 50-50," said Ronaldo. "Croatia are a tough team, with good players. Not every team managed to beat Spain.

"We respect them, but we know our strengths and we'll look them in the eye when we face them."

Croatia are likely to be even stronger for tomorrow morning's clash than against Spain, with the return of Ronaldo's Real teammate Luka Modric from injury.

Juventus frontman Mario Mandzukic is also likely to shake off a knock to retake his place, after Croatia coach Ante Cacic made five changes for the historic win over Spain.

Their bright start to a tournament in France has rekindled memories of their fairy-tale run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998, before losing out to the hosts 2-1.

However, Croatia cannot get carried away despite finding themselves in the weaker half of the draw, avoiding Germany, France, Italy, Spain or England until the final.

"We made a really great job in the group stages, but this is just the beginning. If we lose the next match, this doesn't mean anything," said Perisic, who scored the winner against Spain.

"We have to stay at the same level and fight as we did in the first three matches if we want to recreate memories of 1998."

SOUR NOTE

The sour note for Croatia has come off the field, as their football federation (HNS) was fined 100,000 euros ($198,000) for disturbances when fans threw flares onto the pitch during a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic last week.

HNS president and hero of the 1998 World Cup run Davor Suker praised the security effort that ensured there were no problems in the stands against Spain.

However, he called for stricter controls on those allowed to enter the grounds in France to ensure there is no repeat of the Lens trouble.

"In any other country, this would last one day. There are between 300 and 500 hooligans in Croatia who are listed, cause problems in any place in Europe and came to Saint-Etienne. You have to stop them entering the ground.

"There was exceptional security (in the Spain match), there were no problems and exceptional fair play.

"99.9 per cent (of the fans) are great, but there are 0.01 per cent of radicals who want to destroy football and we have to stop them now because we have paid over one million euros in fines for nothing." 
- Wire Services.

Odds on Wales winning Euros slashes

One bookmaker has said it stands to pay out more should Wales win Euro 2016 than if rivals England claim the silverware.

Patriotic punters normally back the Three Lions so heavily, Ladbrokes said it was "unheard of" for another team to cause them the biggest potential loss at a major football championship.

The firm added that it would pay out more on a Wales win than they did when Leicester City won the league after starting the campaign as 5,000/1 long shots.

Chris Coleman's side started the tournament at 100/1 with the bookmakers but are now priced 
at 25/1.

Ladbrokes' Alex Donohue said the most any punter stood to win should Wales do the unexpected was £50,000 ($100,000).

He added: "In a season of upsets, the odds of Wales pulling off another fairy-tale story have been slashed repeatedly.

"Should Bale and Co go all the way, it's not just fans in Wales who will profit either, as punters on the other side of the Severn have jumped on the Red Dragon bandwagon in record numbers too."

William Hill said its biggest winner should Wales win the tournament would bag £16,000.

One one punter even staked £360 on Gareth Bale being the top scorer at 50/1 which would return £11,475.

Since scoring three goals in the group stages, the odds of Bale bagging the Golden Boot were now down to 7/2. - PA Sport.

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