Croatia might be sitting in second place heading into the final round of matches in Group C at Euro 2012 on Monday [Tuesday morning Australian time], but if the bookies are to believed then they face a huge task to emulate their efforts of reaching the quarter-finals in 2008 and 1996.
Going into the final round of matches, Spain sits atop the group with four points ahead of Croatia on goal difference, with Italy in third place on two points and the Republic of Ireland already eliminated, having lost both their games so far and conceding a tournament-high seven goals in just two games.
But Croatia have to face reigning world and European Champions Spain in their final group game, while Italy ‑ having already drawn with both Spain and Croatia ‑ faces easybeats Ireland.
So if Croatia loses to Spain and Italy, as expected, defeats Ireland, then it is bye bye Croatia, despite the fact they have performed superbly in their opening two games in thrashing Ireland 3-1 and then drawing with Italy.
However, should Croatia draw with Spain and Ireland beat Italy, then all teams will end up on five points and the top two positions will be decided on goal difference, with Spain on plus four goals, Croatia on plus two and Italy ‑ which will surely build up their goal difference against the hapless Irish - on zero.
And there is even the possibility that if Croatia and Italy both win their final-round matches then Spain ‑ equal favourites to win the tournament at Luxbet with Germany at $3.20 ‑ will be eliminated from the tournament.
But the bookies believe there is next to no chance of that happening given Spain looked back to their awesome best in thrashing Ireland 4-0 last time out after surprisingly drawing with Italy in the opening game.
|Back Croatia in the draw-no bet market at Luxbet at $4.90
||Italy to defeat the Republic of Ireland at 2-0 at Luxbet at $6|
Spain are $1.13 to win the group at Luxbet, with Croatia at $6.50 and Italy at $15. To qualify from Group C, it is Spain at $1.05, Italy at $1.70 and Croatia the outsiders at $1.73.
Where head-to-head betting on the final round of Group C games are concerned, Italy and Spain are unbackable favourites to win their respective matches at Luxbet ‑ which would mean elimination for Croatia.
And while Italy should beat Ireland, we would prefer to take the $6 at Luxbet on correct score betting for the Azzurri to win 2-0 rather than to back them straight out at the short odds of $1.27.
However, the other game is much tougher to predict.
Spain should win but Croatia are not be underestimated.
In striker Mario Mandzukic they have the equal-leading scorer in the tournament to date with three goals while their midfield ‑ led by Tottenham star Luka Modric ‑ oozes class.
But while we are not tempted to back Croatia at $7.50 or even willing to recommend backing the draw at $3, we think Croatia are capable of getting the result they need out of this game to reach the last eight.
As a result, Croatia make great appeal on Luxbet's draw-no bet market at $4.90, in which punters only receive $4.90 instead of $7.50 per $1 investment if Croatia wins but get their money back if the game ends in a draw.