Portuguese exploit opportunity

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Portugal 3 Croatia 0

Portugal swept to a comfortable victory here against a team much changed by Croatia, who seemed to concede Group D to their opponents, who now play a quarter-final against the Group C runners-up, the Czech Republic, at Villa Park on Sunday while Croatia meet Germany at Old Trafford.

Croatia's attitude seemed clear from the moment Miroslav Blazevic announced a line-up minus seven members of the team that had so impressively dismantled the champions, Denmark, at Hillsborough. The missing faces included both scorers there, Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban, as well as the influential Derby-bound Aljosa Asanovic, and his new club mate, Igor Stimac, all of whom were rested.

This not only seriously undermined the prospect of a genuinely meaningful contest but cannot have gone down well with the Danes, whose only hope of survival depended on Croatia winning.

The odds against such an outcome lengthened in only the fourth minute. Carlos Secretario, the Portuguese right-back, exchanged passes with Joao Pinto just inside Croatia's half before driving hard towards the corner flag. He then delivered a cross which found Luis Figo unmarked. Taking the ball on his chest, the Portuguese forward prodded it easily past Marijan Mrmic, the reserve goalkeeper.

After 32 minutes Portugal doubled their lead, at which point the match and the group was effectively settled. It was a lovely goal, the product of instinct rather than design. Fernando Couto, rising to meet Figo's corner from the right, did not make good contact, sending the ball away from goal, but Ricardo Sa Pinto, to his left, retrieved the situation with a brilliant overhead kick, setting up Joao Pinto to side-foot home from close range.

This was impudence too much to take, it seemed, for the Croat second string, for whom Dubravko Pavlicic, a menacingly shaven-headed centre- back, was booked for a dreadful foul on Joao Pinto, who reacted with more than a hint of exaggeration.

Blazevic made sweeping changes for the second period, restoring Suker, Boban and Asanovic in one move. Not that it made any worthwhile difference and one has to question the tactical wisdom of upsetting a team's rhythm wilfully during a tournament. At least, unlike his Italian counterpart, Blazevic made sure he qualified first.

The Portuguese could coast now and it was not until only 14 minutes remained that Vitor Baia, their goalkeeper, had to make a noteworthy save, pushing an Asanovic shot around his left-hand post.

Then Portugal scored again, through a combination of good fortune and good finishing, Domingos, a half-time substitute, racing through on the left after Pavlicic's attempted clearance cannoned off Slaven Bilic before clipping a diagonal shot in off the far post.

Goals: Figo (4) 1-0; Joao Pinto (33) 2-0; Domingos (83) 3-0.

PORTUGAL (4-3-3): Vitor Baia (Porto); Sectretario (Porto), Fernando Couto (Parma), Helder (Benfica), Dimas (Benfica); Oceano (Sporting Lisbon), Rui Costa (Fiorentina), Paulo Sousa (Juventus); Joao Pinto (Benfica), Sa Pinto (Sporting Lisbon) Figo (Barcelona). Substitutes: Domingos (Porto) for Sa Pinto, h-t; Pedro Barbosa (Sporting Lisbon) for Rui Costa, 60; Tavares (Boavista) for Paulo Sousa, 69.

CROATIA (5-4-1): Mrmic (Varteks Varazdin); Simic (Croatia Zagreb), Bilic (West Ham), Pavlicic (Hercules Alicante), Soldo (Croatia Zagreb), Jarni (Real Betis); Jurcevic (Freiburg), Mladenovic (Gamba Osaka), Prosinecki (Barcelona), Pamic (Osijek); Vlaovic (Padova). Substitutes: Suker (Real Madrid) for Pamic, h-t; Boban (Milan) for Mladenovic, h-t; Asanovic (Derby County) for Prosinecki, h-t.

Bookings: Croatia: Jarni, Pavlicic, Pamic.

Referee: B Heynemann (Germany).

Man of the match: Rui Costa (Portugal).

Attendance: 20,484.