Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - Croatia v Spain

Croatian perspective: Charles Ducksbury

After being labelled the weakest team in Group C, Croatia are now on the verge of qualifying for the quarter-finals after a win against Ireland and a deserved draw with Italy. A point could be enough (providing Italy don’t beat Ireland), but a 2-2 draw would definitely take both Spain and Croatia through at the expense of the Italians.

The build-up to Monday’s clash has been dominated by talk of a ‘fix’ between the Croatians and Spanish. In a situation that echoes Euro 2004, when Sweden and Denmark contrived to draw 2-2, Italy will be out if the same score occurs in Gdansk. Understandably, both sides have denied that such a deal would ever occur. Darijo Srna and Vedran Corluka both quite rightly asking “who currently has a match-fixing scandal in their country?’”, while coach Slaven Bilic played down talk of a 2-2. “It could be 2-2,” said Bilic. “But it could also be 1-0 or 5-0. Spain will have more of the ball, but we will still have chances. Luck will certainly play it’s part.’

It’s likely that Croatia will play the same team that faced Italy, although a much more defensive system will be needed. Mario Mandzukic netted his third of the tournament last time out (and was then bizarrely linked with a move to Barcelona), but is likely to play a deeper role than he did in the previous two matches.

Croatia will have to go for a goal at some stage, however, knowing that Italy are more than likely to beat Ireland. A more aggressive approach will be adopted later in the game when needed, possibly leaving gaps for the Spanish to exploit. Like Croatia’s first two games, expect a tight first half with a more open second.

Score prediction: Spain 3-1 Croatia

Over 3.5 goals at 2.45; Jelavic to score at anytime at 4.40; Spain to win with 3 goals or more 6.50.

Spanish perspective: Paul Wilkes

2-2! It can't be 2-2. For the good of the tournament and football as a whole, this scoreline should be avoided at all costs. It happened in 2004 between Denmark and Sweden; a 2-2 result eliminated the Italians. Cynics would say that a country embroiled in match fixing scandals once again should not be questioning the integrity of fellow nations, but all the media talk this week should be a preventative measure. Italy supporters are less confident, though: a poll in Corriere dello Sport suggested that over half of Italians think that Spain-Croatia will finish 2-2.

One thing will be of comfort to Italy: Spain only know one way of playing. They will again attempt to win with the aesthetically pleasing brand of football preferred by Vicente Del Bosque. When asked if he had more friends in Croatia or Italy, Andrés Iniesta modestly replied that "my friends are in Albacete". This is the very embodiment of the Spanish players' attitude.

Having dominated Ireland with their passing, Spain will look to prove that they are reaching their maximum potential once again. They completed more passes than any side has in a single game in European Championship history last time out, while Xavi set the individual player record.

Penetration has returned, Fernando Torres is confident again with his forward movement enabling space into which the more creative players can drift. They are now demonstrating that they have more than one option in attack, proving any remaining doubters wrong. The team is likely to be unchanged, although Del Bosque has pulled off a surprise in his last two selections. Fernando Llorente anyone?

Score prediction: Spain 2-0 Croatia

Spain to win at 1.80; Torres to score at least 3 goals at 20.00; draw at half time, Spain at full time at 5.50.