Portugal 1 Croatia 1: Pepe denies World Cup finalists after Perisic opener

Despite being without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal fought back from a goal down to earn a draw against Croatia.

Pepe in action for Portugal   -  Hector Vivas/Getty Images

World Cup finalist Croatia was pegged back by a Pepe header as it drew 1-1 with a Portugal side minus the services of Cristiano Ronaldo at the Estadio Algarve.

Ivan Perisic gave the visitor an 18th-minute lead in the friendly fixture, lashing in a first-time shot with his right foot after a deflected clearance had run perfectly into his path.

Croatia had rarely threatened prior to the opener, but the Inter winger benefited from a lucky break to fire home after Portugal had, carelessly, given away possession inside its own half.

Despite the absence of the talismanic Ronaldo - who asked national boss Fernando Santos to be rested from national duty at the start of September - Portugal levelled before the break.

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Defender Pepe climbed high to meet Pizzi's cross from Portugal's right flank with a powerful header that left Lovre Kalinic - picked to replace the retired Danijel Subasic in goal - rooted to the spot.

Croatia's goalkeeper had, earlier, kept out attempts from Bruma and Bernardo Silva as the host made a lively start, on both occasions getting down low to prevent Portugal from scoring.

However, Kalinic needed the help of the woodwork to avoid conceding again in the closing minutes, Antonio Milic turning a low cross from Mario Rui onto his own post before watching on as the ball deflected away to safety.

Perisic had sent a header straight at Rui Patricio soon after the break, yet the second half failed to catch fire, a raft of substitutions by both teams consistently interrupting the flow of the game.

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What does it mean: Portugal can prosper without Ronaldo 

While its World Cup campaign ended, disappointingly, in defeat to Uruguay at the last-16 stage, Portugal must forget about the past and move on. The signs are promising too, with the returning Ruben Neves – left out of the 23-man squad for Russia – and the lively Bruma impressing. While Ronaldo will always be the focal point for the team when available, there are others emerging who can help pick up the slack when the forward returns to the fold.

Pat on the back: Kalinic shows Croatia are in safe hands

The departure of the experienced Subasic – who played his last game for Croatia in the 4-2 final defeat to France in Moscow – left a vacancy between the posts. Kalinic is by no means a rookie at 28, but his performance suggested Zlatko Dalic can be confident in his new keeper.

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Boot up the backside: Andre Silva struggles in the spotlight

With Ronaldo resting, Silva had the opportunity to impress up top for the home team. Instead, the striker fluffed his audition to be stand-in for his country’s top scorer, horribly miscuing twice in the opening half when presented with shooting opportunities, the second of which led to audible groans from the home fans in Faro.

What's next?

Portugal begins its Nations League campaign by hosting Italy on Monday, while Croatia is away to Spain in its opener in the new UEFA competition, 24 hours later.

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