Portugal and Croatia meet in the opening round of Group D games 21 years on from a memorable play-off tie between the teams.
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The opening round of Group D games brings together Portugal and Croatia, who produced a memorable play-off tie in their only previous UEFA European Under-21 Championship matches.
• The fixture at the Stadion Bonifika in Koper features two teams who both experienced group stage elimination on their most recent appearance in the final tournament.
• This is only the third European U21 Championship meeting between the teams.
• They were paired together in the qualifying play-offs for the 2000 finals, and a goal in each half from Luís Boa Morte in the first leg in Faro on 13 November 1999 seemed to have set up Portugal to progress. However, four days later in Split, first-half strikes from Josip Šimic (38) and Zvonimir Deranja (40) brought Croatia level on aggregate before Boško Balaban scored what proved to be the decisive goal nine minutes into extra time to crown a fine comeback.
• That earned Croatia a first appearance at the U21 finals; they went on to finish fourth in their section at the tournament in Slovakia, taking one point from their three games.
• The teams have met in only one other game, a friendly in Rio Maior on 2 June 2013. Home team Portugal were 2-0 winners thanks to goals from João Carlos (2) and Aldair (89).
• A Dario Špikić goal was not enough prevent Croatia losing 4-2 to Portugal in the European U17 Championship elite round on 21 March 2016, Jota scoring the victors' third goal from the penalty spot. Marijo Ćuže also featured for Croatia, with Diogo Leite, Thierry Correia, Diogo Dalot, Gedson Fernandes, Miguel Luís, Domingos Quina and substitutes Gedson Fernandes and Nuno Santos all in the Portugal line-up.
• A 90th-minute Jota penalty gave Portugal a 2-1 win against Croatia in the European U19 Championship elite round on 23 March 2017; Diogo Costa, Dalot, Diogo Queirós, Miguel Luís, Fernandes, Rafael Leão and substitute Florentino Luís were all in the Portugal team while Croatia's side included Adrian Šemper, Borna Sosa, Branimir Kalaica, Vinko Soldo, Nikola Moro, Luka Ivanušec – whose 28th-minute equaliser had seemingly earned a point – Neven Djurasek, Marko Djira plus substitutes Marin Šverko and Sandro Kulenović.
• Croatia's Moro scored the only goal against Portugal in the European U17 Championship elite round on 22 March 2015.
• Portugal's last finals appearance came in 2017, when they finished second in Group B behind Spain. They were victorious against Serbia (2-0) and North Macedonia (4-2), but a 3-1 loss against their Iberian neighbours on Matchday 2 proved crucial.
• Rui Jorge's side lost the 2015 final to Sweden on their first appearance in the tournament since 2007. They had also been runners-up in 1994 before a quarter-final finish two years later. Subsequently the Portuguese came third in 2004, yet have otherwise been eliminated in the final tournament group stage – in 2002, 2006 (as hosts), 2007 and 2017.
• In charge since 2010, Rui Jorge guided his side to second place in Group 7 in qualifying for the 2021 finals. Portugal finished level with the Netherlands on 27 points, a 4-2 away defeat by the Dutch in their third fixture leaving them behind their opponents on head-to-head record in the final standings. Portugal won their other nine qualifiers, including the last seven, finishing with a 2-1 home victory against the Netherlands. They had the best record of all nine group runners-up.
• Portugal have won nine of their 23 games at U21 EURO final tournaments (D7 L7).
• All three of Croatia's U21 EURO final appearances have ended in the group stage. In 2019, they finished bottom of Group C behind Romania, France (both seven points) and England (1). Nenad Gračan's side lost to Romania (1-4) and France (0-1) before a 3-3 draw in England in which they came from behind three times.
• That 2019 appearance ended Croatia's 15-year wait to feature in the final tournament; the previous appearance had come in 2004 when, as on their 2000 debut, they finished bottom of their section having failed to win a game, drawing one and losing two on each occasion.
• Croatia's record in the final tournament group stage is therefore W0 D3 L6 F11 A19.
• This time round, Igor Bišćan's side finished second in Group 4, a point behind the Czech Republic, taking 20 points from their ten games (W6 D2 L2). Croatia were unbeaten in their last six qualifiers (W4 D2), a 10-0 defeat of San Marino in Zagreb on 8 October 2020 the team's biggest ever victory.
Links and trivia
• Has played in Portugal:
Branimir Kalaica (Benfica 2016–)
• Have played together:
Tiago Djaló & Domagoj Bradarić (LOSC Lille 2019–)
Gonçalo Ramos & Branimir Kalaica (Benfica 2016–)
Florentino Luís, Gedson Fernandes, Jota & Branimir Kalaica (Benfica 2016–20)
• Moro was a late substitute in Dinamo Zagreb's 1-0 win at home to Benfica in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 on 7 March 2019 and played all 120 minutes of his side's 3-0 extra-time defeat seven days later.
• Sandro Kulenović scored Legia Warszawa's first goal in a 2-2 draw away to Sporting CP in the UEFA Youth League on 27 September 2016.