September 2nd 2010
Latvia will have something to build on after the very good World Cup qualifying campaign, although they face a very tough task in their opening game. After quite a while, Croatia missed out on a big tournament and Slaven Bilic’s side are eager to start these qualifiers strongly and prove their worth to everyone.
Latvia’s qualification for the Euro 2004 was one of the biggest surprises in the history of football, and it goes without saying it was their first and the only big tournament so far. Despite boasting virtually unknown squad, Aleksandars Starkovs achieved pretty good results during the World Cup qualifiers, with Latvia finishing just four points off group winners Switzerland. The team are unbeaten at home in their last six games, but they are also winless in last seven games, and this is not a game where they should be looking to end their poor run. Latvia boast a very good defense, led by keeper Andrejs Vanins and they are aware that only a great defensive performance can bring them points against Croatia, and they will act accordingly. Boss Starkovs will have fully fit squad to choose from.
Despite taking 20 points from 10 games during the last qualifying campaign, Croatia failed to make it to the World Cup after finishing third in their group, behind England and Ukraine, so they definitely have something to prove in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. With Greece and Israel also in Group F, Slaven Bilic’s side have got to win games like these if they want to qualify from the first place and the Croats really look fired up for this match. Luka Modric looks set to miss this match but the creativity should not be a problem with players like Niko Kranjcar and Ivan Rakitic in the side. Ivica Olic has resumed full training after recovering from injury and he looks set to start up front alongside another Bundesliga striker, Mladen Petric. All things considered, the Croats have got more than enough quality to break defense-minded Latvia side.
Latvia’s defensive style of play proved to be a real bother for sides like Switzerland, Greece and Israel, but none of those teams had the creativity and potency of Slaven Bilic’s team, and Croatia should have enough in them to dispose of Latvia. While the visitors are unlikely to win the game with few goals to spare, a narrow victory looks on the cards.
Verdict: Away win Croatia (2)
Best Odds: 4/6
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