Verdict: Home Win
Best Odds: 3/4
The 2018 FIFA World Cup runners-up begin their UEFA Nations League campaign at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero in Elche, against a high-flying Spain side who are coming off from a 2-1 victory over England in the opening round of the competition.
La Roja will no doubt feel energized after their 2-1 comeback triumph over England in the UEFA Nations League opener. Marcus Rashford opened the scoring after only 11 minutes but the Spanish national team made an instant response through Saul, whose low strike hit the back of the net for 1-1. It was Rodrigo Moreno who secured a comeback for Spain after some poor defending from the Three Lions two minutes after the half-hour mark.
Spain have thus secured their first-ever competitive triumph at Wembley as new boss Luis Enrique also recorded his own first win as the Spain manager. The former Barcelona manager has already started shaping the Spanish squad to his own image with La Roja playing a high-pressing, possession-based football. Enrique has already promised his team will dive straight into the game with full throttle. The World Cup finalists are definitely a team that would require some tactical restraint but Luis Enrique is not expected to bring too many changes to his style and model.
Gerrard Pique, Andres Iniesta and David Silva all retired from national duty after the World Cup.
Alvaro Morata returned to take his place in attack instead of Diego Costa, whereas Jordi Alba has been left out.
Fresh from their historic World Cup heroics, the Croatia national team will be bursting with enthusiasm heading into the Spain fixture. Zlatko Dalic’s men will need to keep their hands up however and do their best to avoid the post-tournament blow-out.
Croatia are well aware of the challenge resting ahead and will rush into the proceedings at Martinez Valero. A good result will keep the spirits high after the Portugal friendly which saw Vatreni grab a 1-1 draw. Dalic fielded a 4-3-2-1 system in Portugal and is expected to go with the same model against the Spanish as well. Dalic will be well aware that Spain are looking to lash out after a disappointing World Cup campaign and that there is not a better way to raise one’s spirit than a win over World Cup runners-up. Therefore he might opt to go for a slightly defensive approach, especially due to the fact that Croatia failed to keep a single clean sheet in their last six competitive matches.
Striker Mario Mandzukic, defender Vedran Corluka and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic all retired following their World Cup exploits.
Gent custodian Lovre Kalinic is expected to continue in goal, whereas Croatia have more than enough options to replace the other two retirees.
Key Factors to Consider
- Spain scored 70 goals and conceded just 20 in their last 25 matches
- Croatia have yet to keep a clean sheet in their last six games
- Spain and Croatia have had three players each retire from national team following the World Cup
- There were over 2.5 goals scored in Croatia’s last seven matches
- Spain are without a defeat in last 10 matches played on home soil
Croatia are still on cloud nine following their World Cup success and will need to stick their feet to the ground in order to avoid getting carried away against a blood-thirsty Spanish side. La Roja would be aiming for a morale-boosting win against the World Cup runners-up which would be considered a consolation following their disappointing campaign in Russia.
Verdict: Home Win
Best Odds: 3/4
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