Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Prediction: Croatia vs Albania

Verdict: Croatia win

Best odds: 40/85

Bookmaker: Olympusbet

Both having started their exploits at the Euros with defeats in Group B, neither Croatia nor Albania can afford to lose when they meet in Hamburg on Wednesday afternoon.

The obvious aim for the two teams will be to stay in contention for a place in the tournament’s knockout phase.

Croatia

Tipped by some pundits to finally clinch silverware this summer, Croatia began their seventh European Championship appearance — and sixth in a row — with a humbling 3-0 defeat to Spain in Berlin.

Once again outclassed by La Roja, who also bested them in last year’s UEFA Nations League final, Croatia were down by three before halftime, and a missed penalty from Bruno Petkovic — who faced criticism from his manager for jumping the queue — only worsened their plight.

Head coach Zlatko Dalic, the architect of Croatia’s recent major tournament successes, witnessed his team fail to score despite having 16 shots and an expected goals total of 2.38. In Euro 2024’s so-called ‘Group of Death,’ there is no time to dwell on past games.

Croatia must quickly address a decline that has seen them suffer three defeats in their last five competitive matches, including losses to Turkey and Wales in qualifying. This is as many defeats as they had in the previous 29 matches combined.

The Vatreni have not lost consecutive games at the same finals since Euro 1996, and they cannot afford to do so now when facing regional rivals Albania for the first time in senior international football.

With elimination at the first knockout stage in the last two Euros on their record, even reaching that far will be challenging unless they secure at least a point in Hamburg, as reigning champions Italy await in their final group fixture.

Team News

Following Croatia’s woeful start to the Euros, Dalic may make several changes to the XI that faced Spain, including a potential recall for Manchester City star Josko Gvardiol in central defence.

Marin Pongracic could make way for this adjustment, with Borna Sosa expected to slot in at left-back. Despite his high standing, Marcelo Brozovic might also be dropped from the starting lineup, providing an opportunity for either Luka Sucic or Mario Pasalic to make an impact in midfield.

Given the criticism Petkovic received from his manager for missing a penalty against Spain, the attacking trio is likely to remain unchanged. This decision will probably be influenced by veteran winger Ivan Perisic’s ongoing recovery from a long-term injury, which means he is not yet ready to start.

Albania

While Croatia boast significant experience at European Championships, this summer marks only Albania’s second appearance since gaining independence, with both coming in the last three editions.

Albania’s opening game against Italy continued their unfortunate record at UEFA’s main event, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat despite a dream start. Nedim Bajrami’s stunning goal after just 23 seconds – the quickest in European Championship history – gave them an early lead. Bajrami capitalized on a loose throw-in, firing a venomous strike into the top corner from a tight angle. However, the Azzurri quickly responded, netting twice by the 16th minute.

Substitute Rey Manaj nearly equalized late in the game, but was thwarted by Italy captain Gianluigi Donnarumma. Ultimately, Albania suffered their third loss in four matches at major finals.

This defeat was the first competitive setback for Sylvinho’s side since March 2023, breaking a seven-game unbeaten streak in such matches. Following their initial qualifying loss to Poland, they remained undefeated, finishing ahead of both the Poles and Czech Republic.

The Euro 2024 draw has presented a significant challenge, and Albania must avoid an early exit by securing points against Croatia on Wednesday. Even with a draw, they face a daunting task against Spain in their final group fixture next week.

Team News

Albania forward Jasir Asani is a major doubt for the match due to an ankle problem. Consequently, Arber Hoxha, who plays for Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb, may be promoted from the bench to start.

The Albanian attack could be led by either Rey Manaj or Chelsea’s Armando Broja, as Sokol Cikalleshi, who was a key player during qualifying, was left out of Sylvinho’s squad and has since announced his international retirement.

Supporting the central striker will likely be Sassuolo’s Nedim Bajrami, who has been in fine form, recording at least one goal involvement in each of his last three appearances for the national team, with two goals and two assists.

Conclusion

The stakes are high in this second Group B contest, as a defeat would almost certainly lead to elimination from Euro 2024.

While both teams struggled in their opening matches, Croatia’s vast major-tournament experience should give them the edge against an Albania side that, despite their commitment, may be heading towards an early exit.

Verdict: Croatia win

Best odds: 40/85

Bookmaker: Olympusbet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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