Croatia’s road to Euro 2016 was a bumpy one. A docked point for racist fan behaviour and the sacking of coach Niko Kovac last autumn didn’t help their cause, and they eventually scraped through by a single point. The team looked impressive in beating Turkey in their Group D opener and had their second game against the Czech Republic under control before two late goals spoilt their day.
Reigning champions, Spain arrived at Euro 2016 thanks to a straightforward qualifying campaign in which it won nine out of ten games, the only failure being a one-goal defeat in Slovakia. Vincent del Bosque’s side qualified for the second round of the tournament in the shortest possible time, working hard for a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in their opener, and then brushing aside Turkey to reach six points.
Croatia vs. Spain – H2H Stats
In Croatia’s short history as an independent nation, it has met Spain on a football field on five occasions, and only once in a competitive fixture.
That competitive encounter came in the final Group C game of the Euro 2012 competition when a goal from Jesus Navas two minutes from time took Spain to the top of the Group and caused Croatia to miss out on the quarter-finals.
Before that, the two nations had played one another in four friendly matches. Spain won two of those, and a third was drawn. Croatia’s only success in this fixture came in their first ever game against Spain in Valencia in March 1994 when Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker scored to earn a famous 2-0 victory.
Everyone knows what to expect from Spain, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to foil. The only tactical question mark about this team was whether Vincente del Bosque would opt for an out and out striker or a false nine. Two starts and three goals for Alvaro Morata have answered that question. With qualification secure, there could be some squad rotation ahead of this match, but the style will remain the same: intricate passing and high pressing in the Croatian half.
Croatia plays a similar game to Spain, built around ball retention and indirect passing, but simply isn’t as effective at it as the Spanish. Lacking any bite in the central areas of the pitch, the Croatian team is likely to spend much of the game chasing the ball. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will have to make the most of what possession they get, and will try to orchestrate counter-attacks on the flanks.
Croatia vs. Spain Odds & Betting Markets
When trying to weigh up the final round of group games in any major tournament, context is everything. With four points already on the board, it would take an unfortunate turn of events for Croatia to miss out on the second round, but a heavy defeat against Spain might leave them vulnerable. For that reason, it is unlikely that they will be pushing forwards early in the game, even when they do get the ball.
That doesn’t mean we are in for a dull encounter. Croatia isn’t very effective at stopping other teams play, so this could be quite an open, pleasing game to watch, in which ball-playing midfielders have the space to show off their skills.
Still, it is hard to see anything other than a Spanish win. Vincente del Bosque may rotate his squad, but this won’t unsettle the defending champions, given their riches in midfield and their settled pattern of play.
Based on what we’ve seen in their two matches so far, it’s a surprise to see them available at odds against to beat Croatia, and 21/20 about a Spanish win with Boylesports should be taken.
Odds for Total Goals
Given that we’re predicting an open, entertaining match, it could be worth looking at the market for Total Goals. Croatia may be on the back foot for much of the game, but Ante Cacic’s side doesn’t play with a defensive attitude. The last two Group games featuring these sides produced eight goals and between them they averaged more than 2.5 goals per game in qualifying.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 7/4 with Betfair.
Odds for First Goalscorer
Alvaro Morata has scored half of Spain’s goals so far this tournament, but given the way they play, there are multiple goal-scoring threats in the Spanish side, and squad rotation makes it hard to narrow the field. Instead, it could be worth looking at the Croatian side, which will create chances. Lone striker Mario Mandzukic doesn’t score that often so I would side with winger Ivan Perisic, who is likely to be Croatia’s main outlet on the counter attack.
Back Perisic to score first at 11/1 with William Hill.