Croatia - Spain Preview: Group C rivals in control of their own destinies heading into final match
The two teams have the luxury of sitting at the top of the table on four points each, knowing a victory or even a high-scoring draw will book a coveted spot in the knockout round
By Adam Scime
Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic
Mandzukic, Modric, Perisic
Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Silva, Xavi, Iniesta
Croatia and Spain lead Group C going into their final clash, but neither are assured of a place in the quarter-finals just yet.
After coming from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with Italy, coach Slaven Bilic may stick with the tactical adjustment of switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1, which allowed his side to score the crucial equaliser. Playmaker Luka Modric was pushed further up field and goalscorer Mario Mandzukic off to the right of the attack in a move that paid second-half dividends on Thursday.
However, Everton striker Nikica Jelavic missed training on Saturday with a fever, although he is still expected to recover in time to lead the line against the champions at the PGE Arena Gdansk.
The Spanish were in fine form last time out, humiliating Republic of Ireland 4-0 and are likely to make do with an identical starting XI, but coach Vicente del Bosque will be wary of the fact that Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fernando Torres are on yellow cards and could miss the last-eight clash - assuming Spain qualify - if they pick up another booking.
The former Real Madrid boss has hinted that Cesc Fabregas, despite scoring in both games at the finals thus far, is likely to find himself on the bench. Meanwhile, attackers Juan Mata and Fernando Llorente will be hoping to earn their first minutes on the pitch at Euro 2012 at some point in the match even if it is in the form of a substitute appearance.
|DID YOU KNOW?
- Croatia and Del Bosque's side can both guarantee their place in the quarter-finals with a draw of 2-2 or higher.
- Bilic's have never faced Spain in a competitive match. All four of the meetings between the two sides have been friendlies, with their only victory coming via a 2-0 triumph back in 1994. Croatia's overall record against Spain is W1, D1, L2.
- Striker Mario Mandzukic has been clinical at Euro 2012, scoring three times from four attempts on goal.
- Croatia have not lost any of their last six matches at the European Championship, being ousted only via a penalty shootout by Turkey in 2008.
- Spain set a new record with 860 passes at the tournament during their 4-0 win over Ireland, beating the previous landmark of 778.
- Xavi (pictured right) set a new individual record himself in the competition by attempting 136 passes against the Boys in Green, beating Ronald Koeman's total of 117 from a Euro 1992 clash versus Denmark.
- The champions have only conceded one goal in their last six matches at major international tournaments.
- Fernando Torres' double in the victory over Ireland took him to 30 international goals, making him the country's third all-time top scorer behind only Raul and David Villa.
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Top 3 Predictions
Croatia 0-2 Spain
- 16.11 %
Croatia 1-3 Spain
- 15.15 %
Croatia 1-2 Spain
- 11.11 %
|Euro 2012 (EC)||18 Jun 2012||Croatia 0 - Spain 1|
|International Friendlies (FR)||7 Jun 2006||Croatia 1 - Spain 2|
|5 Mar 2014||Switzerland 2 - Croatia 2||FR|
|19 Nov 2013||Croatia 2 - Iceland 0||WCQE|
|15 Nov 2013||Iceland 0 - Croatia 0||WCQE|
|15 Oct 2013||Scotland 2 - Croatia 0||WCQE|
|11 Oct 2013||Croatia 1 - Belgium 2||WCQE|
|6||Andrés Iniesta Luján||Midfielder|
|22||Jesús Navas González||Midfielder|
The Wolfsburg striker has been the man with the golden touch for his country at Euro 2012 thus far having claimed three goals in two matches. With Croatia likely to find chances at a premium against Spain, he will have to continue his high conversion rate if the 2008 quarter-finalists are to reach that stage again.
The veteran's performance versus Ireland was something of a masterclass in maintaining possession as he set a new record in passing. Against Croatia that may prove to be a tough milestone to reach again, but if the Barcelona man can keep things ticking in similar fashion, then La Roja should be able to celebrate a place in the last eight as grou winners.
Although any draw will send Spain through, and a 2-2 tie or higher is good enough for both sides, don't expect either of them to hold back on going for all three points. In the end, the superior quality of Iker Casillas & Co. should tell against a Croatian defence that has not looked all that secure in the first two matches.