Nations League: Ronaldo-less Portugal outplay Croatia

Opening salvo
Joao Cancelo celebrates Portugal's first goal. Photo: Reuters

Nations League holders Portugal made light of Cristiano Ronaldo's injury absence as they swept aside Croatia 4-1 in their opener in the competition on Saturday.

European champions Portugal, in impressive form on their return to action after a 10-month new coronavirus hiatus, hit the woodwork three times before Joao Cancelo fired them ahead four minutes before half-time in the League A Group Three match.

Diogo Jota and Joao Felix both scored their first international goals in the second half before Bruno Petkovic pulled one back and Andre Silva then added a fourth.

Ronaldo, who is on 99 international goals, was ruled out with a toe infection while Croatia were missing key midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic after their federation agreed not to pick them before the start of the European club season.

It was the first time Ronaldo had missed a Portugal game since November, 2018.

Nikola Vlasic nearly gave Croatia a second-minute lead when his shot was tipped around the post by Anthony Lopes but after that it was all Portugal.

Joao Felix hit the bar, Diogo Jota headed against the post and Raphael Guerreiro's long-range shot struck the upright, rebounded onto goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic's back and flew wide as Croatia's goal lived a charmed life.

But their luck ran out when Cancelo scored before the break with a curling left-foot shot from the edge of the area.

As Portugal continued to dominate after half-time, Guerreiro chipped the ball over the Croatia defence to Jota who controlled it on his chest and slotted his shot home almost on the hour.

Joao Felix, 20, also scored in the 71st minute with a powerful shot which Livakovic got a hand to but could not stop.

Although Petkovic pulled one back in stoppage time, Portugal substitute Silva slid in a fourth goal from Pepe's header with the last kick of the game.

Mbappe wins it for France

France beat Sweden 1-0 in Stockholm in the other game in the group. A slice of luck and a moment of individual brilliance during a mazy run from Kylian Mbappe gave them a gritty win away to Sweden with Antoine Griezmann even missing a last-minute penalty.

Making the difference
Kylian Mbappe netted the winner for France against Sweden. Photo: Reuters

France coach Didier Deschamps tried a new 3-4-1-2 system but the Swedes, promoted to the competition's top tier after their group victory last year, frustrated the world champions for the first 40 minutes until Mbappe proved to be the difference.

The 21-year-old Paris St Germain striker got a fortunate bounce off a defender's legs as he danced through the right side of the Swedish defence before beating goalkeeper Robin Olsen from a very tight angle at his near post.

Results: League A: Group 2: Iceland lost to England 0-1; Denmark lost to Belgium 0-2.

League A: Group 3: Portugal bt Croatia 4-1; Sweden lost to France 0-1.

League C: Group 1: Azerbaijan lost to Luxembourg 1-2; Cyprus lost to Montenegro 0-2.

League C: Group 2: North Macedonia bt Armenia 2-1; Estonia lost to Georgia 0-1.

League D: Group 2: Gibraltar bt San Marino 1-0.

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