Verdict: France win
Best odds: 11/20
In the second round of the 2020/21 edition of the UEFA Nations League, France will play host to Croatia at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Tuesday in League A Group 3. It will be a replay of the 2018 World Cup final, though two years have passed since.
France won that day and they remain therefore the champions of the world, and the runners-up will be seeking revenge.
Last time around, France finished second in their group behind the competition finalists Netherlands. They will be looking to do better this time if they can even though they now face defenders Portugal, aside from Croatia and Sweden.
They started well enough, by beating Sweden in Stockholm 0-1, courtesy of a fine goal by Kylian Mbappe, and are now second on goal difference to Portugal. Despite the triumph, coach Didier Deschamps won’t have been happy with the unconvincing performance of his team in their opening match.
Nonetheless, France easily walked through their qualifying group for the European Championship next year, winning eight of the 10 games they played and finishing top of the pile also containing Turkey, Iceland, Albania, Andorra and Moldova. They are without a doubt one of the favourites for the trophy.
Manchester United star Paul Pogba and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Tanguy Ndombele both withdrew from the squad ahead of the opening match in Sweden after testing positive for Covid-19, and in a surprising turn of events, Mbappe joined them on that list on Monday evening. Adrien Rabiot of Juventus and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante started that the game on Friday, and they are likely to be named in the line-up again, while United forward Anthony Martial could replace the PSG forward.
Lucas Digne started as the left wing-back in a 3-4-1-2, and if Deschamps keeps to that formation, he will again have to choose between the Everton man and Real Madrid’s Ferland Mendy.
Croatia had an extremely difficult task in the previous edition of the Nations League, facing Spain and England in Group A4. It was no wonder and no shame that they finished at the bottom.
But if France’s performance in the opening round this time can be described as underwhelming, that of Croatia was even worse. They were outplayed and heavily beaten by Portugal, even without the superstar that is Cristiano Ronaldo. Joao Cancelo, Diogo Jota, Joao Felix and substitute Andre Silva all found the net behind the back of Dominik Livakovic, with a solitary strike by Bruno Petkovic at the other end providing some consolation.
Like France, Croatia also won their group in the Euro qualifiers, winning five of the eight matches played and finishing above Wales, Slovakia, Hungary and Azerbaijan.
After the woes of the Portugal game, coach Zlatko Dalic is likely to make some changes. Winger Ivan Perisic and midfielder Marcelo Brozovic could be involved from the start. There is no Ivan Rakitic or Luka Modric in the squad, and if Brozovic starts, he would likely be playing alongside Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic in the middle of the park.
It will be interesting to see if striker Andrej Kramaric keeps his place after Petkovic came on and scored against Portugal.
This is definitely not the Croatia team which reached the World Cup final, and even then they were beaten by this particular opponent. Now, without Rakitic or Modric, not to mention Mario Mandzukic, their chances of walking away from Paris with anything are very slim.
On the other hand, France will do their best to get their points tally as high as they possible before they take on Portugal.
Verdict: France win
Best odds: 11/20
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