Tough Task for Croatia
Group C: Spain vs. Croatia
Monday, 18 June 2012
20:45CET (20:45 local time)
Arena Gdansk, Gdansk.
With Italy lurking behind them, Spain need a win to assure qualification from Group D. Tied on 4 points with Croatia but with a better goal difference, they are two points better off compared to Italy. Spain are unbeaten in three games against Croatia, their last defeat coming in 1994. La Roja also haven’t tasted defeat in their last eight games at the Euros.
In the first competitive meeting between these two sides, manager Slaven Bilic will be hoping for a bang-up performance against Spain, though his side have the cumbersome task of trying to stop the rampant Spaniards who pummelled Ireland 4-0 in the last round of fixtures. With La Roja looking insurmountable, Slaven Bilic has admitted that his team will need “a game of their lives” against the defending champions. The Spanish have all right to be high on confidence as their elegant display in their win over Ireland produced 26 shots, 20 of them on target. Spain’s attractive football in that game set a new record for most passes in a match at the Euros with 860. Di Natale’s goal in the opening fixture is the only goal La Roja have yielded in their last six games at major international tournaments. Torres’ brace against the Irish to join David Villa as Spain’s best scorer in the European championships will serve as incentive for the Chelsea forward who is expected to start again in today’s fixture. The goal also took him to a tally of 30 goals with Spain, making him the country’s third all-time top scorer behind Raul and David Villa.
Croatia have the finishing skills of Mario Mandzukic in their quest to secure qualification. Mandzukic has found the net three times in his four shots on target for the Blazers. A shock win for Croatia will see them qualify to the next round as group winners.
Both teams will qualify if the game ends in a draw with both teams scoring two or more goals each.
Italics denote friendlies.
Vicente Del Bosque’s team is expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, maintaining his starting line-up against England. Sergio Busquets has recovered from a minor foot injury to be at his team’s disposal.
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Alba, Ramos, Pique, Arbeloa; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi; Iniesta, Torres, Silva.
Slaven Bilic could stick with his tactical switch from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 which earned his side a draw against Italy. Everton striker Jelavic is expected to recover in time for the game after missing training on Saturday due to fever.
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Vukojevic, Rakitic; Mandzukic, Modric, Perisic; Jelavic.
The key battle will be between Busquets and Modric whose paths will continually cross as Modric will be looking to make some runs from his deep role in front of the defence. Wolfsburg’s striker Mario Mandzukic’s will provide a constant threat to the Spanish defence. His three goals so far in this year’s tournament have made him joint top scorer. Mandzukic’s skill and brilliance all in all could prove influential for Croatia. Mandzukic can play on the wing or as a striker, offering variety for his team.
Spain’s array of talents might prove too much for the Croatian defence. They will have the trio of Iniesta, Torres and Silva leading the line for them. Iniesta and Silva will be a pain in the neck for the Croatian defence, straying from their positions to ask various questions. Fernando Torres could replicate his superb display against the Irish in what promises to be an interesting encounter.
“Absolutely not. We only know how to play attacking football so a draw would not suit us. Our aim is always to go out for victory and against Croatia it will be no exception.” – Spain’s Xavi Hernandez when asked if Spain would consider playing for the draw.
“We play our best when we play against the top teams.”-Croatia coach Slaven Bilic in anticipation of the game.