Euro 2016: Croatia v Spain - Expert v Expert Preview


Terry Gibson assesses whether Spain, who have already clinched a spot in the next round, can remain atop Group D. Will Croatia stay in second place, win the group, or fall to third? Juraj Vrdoljak discusses their chances.

TEAM NEWS

Terry Gibson on Spain: Multiple changes expected from Del Bosque after back to back victories so far for Spain. Iker Casillas possibly starting and likewise Pedro, Aduriz and Koke.

Qualification for the next stage is guaranteed but it is important of course for Spain to top the group. Del Bosque does show great trust in all of his players and is also aware of the importance of players getting minutes on the pitch in order to stay match sharp. It will be interesting to see if he tinkers with the back four who are playing so well together, it is an area of the teams success that is often overlooked. No injuries to report for Spain as of yet. 

Juraj Vrdoljak on Croatia: Croatia is heading out to face Spain in their final group stage game gripped by images of crowd trouble during the game v Czech Republic.  The troubles, which are only a small part of a much deeper issue between the fans and the Croatian FA, will almost certainly leave a mark on the team itself.

The fact that Luka Modric will be left on the bench with a injury scare (although a minor one), and with Mandzukic still doubtful, just adds up to the list of potential problems inside Croatian squad. However, if they manage to pull their thoughts away from the non-football issues and focus on retaining the energy and level of football they presented for the majority of the first two matches, Croatia can even eye the top of the group with a potential victory. On the other hand, even if they lose match, the progression to the knockout stages still shouldn't suddenly become an ominous reality.

FORM

Gibson: Spain look to be in good shape. There was some doubt going into the tournament after a shock defeat against Georgia at home in a pre tournament friendly. Many questions were being asked about the proficiency of their attacking players but Alvaro Morata and Nolito responded well with the chances that were created for them against Turkey.

Another clean sheet for De Gea and the defence and another sparkling performance from Iniesta who is continuing his fine run of form from the last few games of the season for Barcelona. David Silva also showed signs of getting back to his level after missing some games for Manchester City at the end of he season so they appear to be in good nick.

Vrdoljak: While Croatia controlled most of the game v Czech Rep., it appears they once again gave too much space to the opponent after they took a lead by two goals. Also, only after Luka Modric was substituted just after an hour mark had passed,we could once again see his impact on the game; midfield lost its structure and his substitute Kovacic really had a rough time adjusting to the tempo.

If Croatia did concede the second goal due to the obvious psychological downfall after seeing their fans riot, the first one – a great header from Milan Skoda, scored ten minutes prior to the incident – was a clear result of Croatia being unable to wrap the game without unnecessary stress being involved. Spain will most likely be the biggest test for the Croatian defensive line, at least in the group stage of the tournament, and it will be interesting to see how well can they cope with a substantial amount of pressure they will have to face.

KEY MAN

Gibson: I'm going to go for Pedro in this game. He appears to be very irritated and rightly so at not being part of the starting team and he will be chomping at the bit to prove that he should be playing. I'm expecting him to make the most of any opportunity that he is given by the coach.

After his recent ill timed outburst regarding his role in the squad he certainly needs to put in a performance. Knowing Del Bosque as I do, I expect him to show some support for Pedro rather than punish a player who has been a loyal squad member in the past and also I must add a player who has been important in their successes over the last 8 years. An angry Pedro might be just what Spain need in this game.

Vrdoljak: With the absence of Luka Modric, the weight of the battle in the midfield will drop solely on Ivan Rakitic's back. If he perhaps wasn't on the top of his game v Turkey, he fully readapted to his free role behind the sole striker during the match v the Czech Rep., rounding his great performance with a neat Messi style chip over Cech to make it 2-0.

However, in the match v Spain he will have to be more focused on being the first line of defense, keeping the midfield tight and not letting the Spanish create space for themselves, especially after they enter Croatia's half of the pitch.

SURE THING

Gibson: This is difficult as it could be a very passive affair on the pitch, maybe not in the stands! Both teams could be happy with a draw, no injuries, no suspensions and a safe passage into the next stage.

If it was a genuine competitive fixture in the knock out stage I would expect Croatia to really give Spain a game but in these circumstances I'm not so sure. I'm expecting Modric less Croatia to sit back and try to frustrate Spain who will also be content with a point. So how much the Spaniards will push for the win I'm not too sure. Easy sure thing once again has to be another clean sheet for Spain and whoever is in goal.

Vrdoljak: Since Spain has already validated their tickets for the knockout stage, Croatia will probably take the safer route and focus more on not spending too much energy going after a draw, which would definitely confirm them keeping Spain company in the second round as well. Therefore both teams keeping a clean sheet after 45 minutes, an option going at 2.25, seems like a good deal.

LONG SHOT:

Vrdoljak: I have a feeling that we could see a replay of the 2012 final group match, when Navas left it late to score a winning goal against Croatia in the 88th minute of the game.

Spain scoring their first goal after the 75th minute is going at 9.50, so that could be a good bet for those who like to give their odds an extra push.

SCORE PREDICTION

Gibson: 1-0 Spain at 5.60.

Angry Pedro getting the goal!

Vrdoljak: Spain pulling one ahead of Croatia with both teams going through to the next round; final result 0-1, standing at 5.60.