Croatia stayed up despite a last-gasp defeat by Group A3 runners-up Portugal.
Article top media content
Ten-man Croatia stayed in League A despite losing a thriller against Portugal following a late winner from Rúben Dias.Croatia vs Portugal: as it happened, reaction
Match in brief
Mateo Kovačić’s opener came against the run of play in the first half, the Chelsea midfielder scoring at the second attempt from Mario Pašalić’s pass after Rúben Semedo failed to clear.
Josip Juranović could have made it two before the break, but the game changed early in the second half when Marko Rog was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s free-kick was well saved by Dominik Livaković, but the ball fell to Semedo who squared for Dias to level.
And it went from bad to worse for Croatia eight minutes later when Diogo Jota drew the keeper and pulled the ball back for João Félix to slot his side ahead.
But Croatia were not finished and Kovačić’s brilliant second hauled his team level, firing in a first-time shot from the edge of the area.
It looked as though the hosts would hold out until right at the end when Livaković collided with Dejan Lovren after claiming a high ball and the ball fell for Dias to net his second.
Elvir Islamović, Croatia reporter
Brave Croatia showed passion and heart but narrowly failed to hold on against Portugal with ten men for almost the entire second half. They were so close to the draw, but ultimately they achieved their goal of remaining in the top league and they can take some lessons from this year's competition. Coach Zlatko Dalić has said there is a generation change in progress and promised the team will look much better next summer at UEFA EURO 2020.
Carlos Machado, Portugal reporter
Portugal end their campaign with a hard-fought win, although it probably didn't need to be as hard-fought as it was. Playing against ten men for almost all of the second period, the visitors never seemed to get it together and almost paid the price. Despite having several good chances, the Seleção never showed the consistency required to win more convincingly.
Zlatko Dalić, Croatia coach: "I want to congratulate my boys, they really showed some heart today, they played well and I am really sorry they were not rewarded for that. We almost managed to hold on but one mistake at the end cost us."
Rúben Dias, Portugal defender: "I am obviously very happy to score my first goals for the national team and with the victory. We tried our best to adapt to the conditions and ended up with a difficult victory against strong opposition."
Fernando Santos, Portugal coach: “We didn't have any intensity in the first half again. We began the second half with lots of intensity, winning second balls, because these games are won like this. We went 2-1 up but then we started playing again at the same low pace and allowed Croatia, with ten men, to score. We ended up winning, and we were fair winners because we were better, but we have to be much better.”
- Luka Modrić is now one cap behind Croatia's all-time record appearance maker, Darijo Srna (134).
- Kovačić trebled his international goal tally, having only previously scored one goal for Croatia.
- This was the first time these two nations had ever met in Croatia.
- Croatia have only won two of their ten UEFA Nations League matches.
- Portugal have only lost one of their 12 UEFA Nations League fixtures.
- Croatia have never beaten Portugal in seven attempts.
- Portugal conceded more than one goal for only the second time in 12 UEFA Nations League games, and had kept clean sheets in their previous three away matches in the competition.
Croatia: Livaković; Juranović, Lovren, Škorić, Bradarić; Modrić, Rog, Kovačić (Bašić 90); Vlašić (Oršić 83), Pašalić (Brekalo 64), Perišić.
Portugal: Rui Patrício; Nélson Semedo, Rúben Semedo, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui (João Cancelo 71; Danilo (Sérgio Oliveira 77), João Moutinho, Bruno Fernandes (Francisco Trincão 46); João Félix (Bernardo Silva 71), Ronaldo, Diogo Jota (Paulinho 77).
The UEFA Nations League final tournament takes place from 6–10 October 2021. Teams will return to competitive action in spring 2021 in the European Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.