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Sluggish Portugal go through; Gareth Bale the difference against a game Northern Ireland: Euro 2016 talking points

It wasn't pretty, but Portugal are through to the quarter-finals, as are Gareth Bale's Welsh side and a battle-tested Poland. Greg Lea's daily talking points.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after Ricardo Quaresma scores against Croatia. (REUTERS/Lee Smith)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after Ricardo Quaresma scores against Croatia. (REUTERS/Lee Smith)

Every match day during Euro 2016, The National’s Premier League correspondent Greg Lea will break down every match and its key moments. Here is his analysis of Wednesday’s action in the tournament.

Croatia 0-1 Portugal (after extra time): Late drama in drab affair

This match had the potential to be the most enjoyable of the round of 16, but both Croatia and Portugal were lacklustre and played out one of the dullest games of the tournament so far.

Both sides were extremely cautious and seemed more concerned with keeping their opponents out than seeking a goal of their own at the other end, with the first shot on target not arriving until the 117th minute.

Croatia started brightly in terms of ball possession, but there was never any penetration to their passing and many of their combinations took place deep in the pitch.

Portugal were content to sit back in their own half and wait for Ante Cacic’s men rather than press high up the field, which resulted in multiple slow and safe passing moves. Fernando Santos’ charges had a few promising moments of their own, but again there was little threat in behind the Croatia backline.

When 90 minutes with little goalmouth action was followed by more of the same in extra time, the match look destined for a penalty shoot-out. With just under four minutes remaining, though, Portugal broke away and took the lead through Ricardo Quaresma, who nodded the ball into an empty net after Cristiano Ronaldo’s initial effort was saved by Danijel Subasic.

It was cruel to Croatia, who were so impressive in the group stage, but it is Portugal who go through to the quarter-finals.

Switzerland 1-1 Poland (4-5 pens): Krychowiak the shoot-out hero

Fans of penalties were at least treated to a spot-kick settler in Switzerland’s clash with Poland, when the two teams could not be separated after 120 minutes of action.

Poland were the superior side in the first half, allowing Switzerland to control possession before springing forward and causing problems on the break when the ball was turned over. Jakub Blaszczykowski’s goal came from a swift counter-attack started by Lukasz Fabianski’s quick throw, for instance, with Poland creating the better opportunities throughout the opening 45 minutes.

Switzerland wrestled back control of the match after the interval, though, as Poland struggled to exert much of an influence on proceedings. It may have taken until the 82nd minute for Vladimir Petkovic’s charges to get back on level terms thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri’s moment of magic, but an equaliser was the least they deserved after a dominant display in the second period.

Although the momentum remained with Switzerland in extra time, they could not find a way past the impressive Fabianski. Nine of the 10 penalties in the shoot-out were successful, but Granit Xhaka’s miss put Poland in the next round and sent the Swiss crashing out.

Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland: Bale and co. win battle of Britain (Pictures)

It has been a long time since either Wales or Northern Ireland competed in the knockout rounds of a major tournament, and both nations would have been desperate to make the most of the occasion in Paris.

It was the Welsh who ultimately advanced to the last eight after Gareth McAuley inadvertently turned Gareth Bale’s cross into his own net, but Northern Ireland can leave France with their heads held high.

Michael O’Neill’s charges were the better team for much of this encounter, successfully nullifying the threat of Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen for long periods and looking dangerous from set-pieces. Their game plan was executed perfectly in the defensive phase of play, with Northern Ireland probably banking on space opening up late on as Wales chased the winner.

In the end, however, a brilliant cross from Bale – the type of top-quality player Northern Ireland were missing in the final third – was decisive.

Player of the day

Grzegorz Krychowiak was once again excellent in the centre of Poland’s midfield, with the Sevilla man also converting the winning spot-kick to send his side through to the last eight.

Goal of the day

Xherdan Shaqiri’s remarkable overhead kick was not just the goal of the day but also the strike of the tournament so far.

Decision of the day

The introduction of Renato Sanches early in the second half gave Portugal extra thrust and dynamism in midfield, with Fernando Santos deserving credit for the change.

Howler of the day

Granit Xhaka’s penalty miss was costly, with the Switzerland midfielder shanking his effort horribly wide of the post to give Poland the chance to edge in front.

Statistic of the day

Wales have reached the quarter-final stage of a major competition for the first time since the 1958 World Cup, when a 17-year-old Brazilian striker by the name of Pele scored the only goal of the game to knock them out.

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Updated: June 26, 2016 04:00 AM

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