Verdict: Croatia win
Best Odds: 3/5
Hoping to open their European qualifying run with a statement on home soil, Croatia will welcome Wales to the Stadion Poljud on Saturday night.
Starting with the hosts, putting in another famous World Cup flurry over the winter as they claimed a bronze medal finish in Qatar, Croatia have only underlined their status as one of Europe’s elite. Now securing at least a semi-final showdown in back-to-back World Cup adventures, the Blazers will be looking to keep up their recent momentum here. Eventually signing off their Middle Eastern run with an eye-catching 2-1 victory against African heavyweights Morocco, Zlatko Dalic’s men will be looking to make an early Group D statement here. Causing an almighty upset over the winter as they came past pre-tournament favourites Brazil, Croatia have now lost just one of their last 13 straight appearances across all competitions. Likewise, punching their spot in the Nations League semi-finals back in September, Dalic’s men will be excited to make a return to the Stadion Poljud on Saturday night.
While many expected for Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric to announce his international retirment following Croatia’s World Cup run, the Real Madrid ace has been included in Dalic’s squad this month.
Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic is also in line to earn his 124th-cap on Saturday night and should feature in Croatia’s attack. Bagging a brace in Hoffenhemin’s 3-1 victory against Hertha Berlin last weekend, Andrej Kramaric looks set to lead the line here.
As for the visitors, while Wales might have enjoyed an emotional return to the World Cup stage over the winter, Rob Page’s Middle Eastern adventure quickly became a real nightmare. Although some in the Dragons’ camp might have been dreaming of a genuine charge for the knockout stage, they failed to collect a single win in Qatar and have come under a huge amount of scrutiny. Eventually signing off their lackluster trip with a 3-0 drumming at the hands of British rivals England, Friday’s guests will know that they face another huge task here. Left heartbroken after getting hit with a 2-0 loss against Iran back on November 25th, Page’s downbeat squad have now failed to win any of their last eight straight appearances across all competitions. Failing to capitalise on their famous victory against Ukraine last year, Wales have also continued to show some rather glaring struggles in the final third.
Both Nottingham Forest’s goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and Tottenham defender Ben Davies have withdrawn from Wales’ squad this month. Morgan Fox, Tom King, Liam Cullen and Mark Harris come into Page’s camp.
The Dragons will be without attacking icon Gareth Bale after the ex-Real Madrid superstar announced his retirement earlier in the year. Leicester’s Danny Ward will start between the sticks on Saturday night.
Key Factors to Consider
- When the two sides last met back in October 2019 while on European qualifying duties, Wales and Croatia played out a 1-1 draw in Cardiff.
- However, Wales have failed to win any of their six meetings against the World Cup bronze medalists.
- Likewise, Page’s side also suffered a 2-1 defeat when they last traveled to Croatia four years ago.
- Including their stellar third-place finish over the winter, Croatia have lost just one of their last 13 straight appearances across all competitions.
- Wales have failed to win any of their last eight straight appearances across all formats – a run that stems back to June 2022.
Making more World Cup history in Qatar over the winter as they claimed a bronze medal finish, Croatia should be smelling the chance to make an early qualifying statement here. Suffering just a single defeat from any of their last 13 straight appearances across all competitions, a struggling Wales will know that they face a huge challenge on Friday night. Enduring a real Middle Eastern nightmare and now in the midst of an eight-match run without a win, the Dragons should also be worried by a hugely concerning record against the European high-flyers. Getting hit with a 2-1 loss when they last traveled to Croatia four years ago, we are backing a home victory here.
Verdict: Croatia win
Best Odds: 3/5
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