After knocking Ireland out of the competition, Spain take on Croatia in a bid to defend their title. Both teams have had similar results in their previous games as they secured a draw against Italy and comprehensively defeated minnows Ireland. The La Roja are ahead of Croatia only on goal difference.
A win or a draw for the La Roja would guarantee them a quarterfinal berth, irrespective of the outcome of the Italy Ireland clash. On the other hand, it is a must-win situation for Croatia and a draw or a loss would leave them at the mercy of the Irishmen, who face a daunting prospect of snatching something against Italy.
However, by a curious turn of events, if the game were to end in a 2-2 score-line, both Spain and Croatia would qualify at the expense of Italy. Having drawn both their games 1-1, Italy would see themselves heading for the exit even if they defeat Ireland as a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would give them both more goals than the Azzuri. The Italian media is already out with its own ‘biscotto’ (stitch-up) conspiracy theories revealing alleged secret pacts between the two teams. Though these theories are spicy and entertaining, they sound totally far-fetched.
Despite injuries to two first-team players Villa and Puyol, Spain have displayed their bench strength and trashed Ireland 4-0. After surprising many by not including a genuine striker against Italy, del Bosque included Torres against Ireland. The Chelsea man, who has been inconsistent at best lately, struck two goals in either half and repaid the faith held by his manager. Fabregas, who came off the bench to score a goal each against Italy and Ireland, is likely to push Xabi Alonso for a place in the starting eleven. Del Bosque would be relieved after scans on Busquet’s foot revealed no serious injuries and he is expected to be fit enough to start the game.
Croatia’s danger man is the tall Wolfsburg striker Mandzukic. With three goals in the last two games, he has peaked at the right time and would be hoping to reproduce his fine form against the Spaniards. The Croatian midfield has tremendously improved its ability to retain possession, thanks to the Tottenham man Luka Modric. However, against Spain they will have to be on their toes fully aware that their opponents are unmatched when it comes to holding the ball.
Spain’s probable lineup (4-3-3): Casillas, Alba, Ramos, Pique, Arbeloa, Fabregas, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva, Torres.
Croatia’s probable lineup (4-4-2): Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Vukojevic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Jelavic, Mandzukic.
With both teams in need of a victory for an outright qualification, they are likely to push and dominate the game. But Spain are favourites to win the game, given their team strength and superior technical ability.
Spain 2 Croatia 1
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Gokul is a software professional from Chennai, India. An avid sports fan, he is a keen follower of Cricket, Football, Hockey, Tennis and Formula One. He styles his articles as razor-edge analyses of all the hot and happening events in the field of sports.