This looks to be a straight battle to top the group, with Spain already into the next round and Croatia all but guaranteed to advance. Spain gave the most convincing performance of the tournament so far against Turkey and they could have won by a larger margin than 3-0. Meanwhile, Croatia have surprised many and every side will want to avoid them in the knockout rounds. It will be interesting how both sides approach this match as it will be their first real test. Spain will need to show that they can dominate matches against a much better side than Turkey, while Croatia need to prove they can mix it with the very best.
Spain have certainly recovered well from their World Cup disappointment and have found a slightly different way of playing. Alvaro Morata and Nolito have added genuine quality to the attacking line, showing their finishing abilities against Turkey. There were doubts about Morata after Spain’s opening match, but he has proven that he can add an extra dimension to the side’s possession based style of play. There are some big clubs sniffing around the young Spaniard this summer, no doubt the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal are worrying that a sign up bonus will be added to his transfer fee after every good performance. The performances of Andres Iniesta so far this tournament have been superb and he continues to show that he is one of the best central midfielders of all time. The most impressive thing about Spain’s style of play is how they stretch the play and tire the opposition out, using their full backs to aplomb. They could be caught on the counter against better sides and Croatia, especially their midfield, have the ability to do that effectively.
Croatia have been very impressive in their opening two matches and have some talented players. The main concern will be their defence, especially after losing a two goal lead against Czech Republic. Their midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic have all scored in the opening two matches, and will worry Spain. The holders have yet to concede a goal, and it will be interesting to see how they cope against a talented Croatian attack. Mario Mandzukic is yet to find the back of the net and he will be keen to open his account before the knockout stages. It will be tough to do so against two of the best centre-backs in the world.
This match is important as the second place from this group will likely come up against Italy in the round of 16, which will be an incredibly tough match. Meanwhile the winner of the group will play one of the third place sides, which will be a much kinder fixture. These two sides met in the groups at Euro 2012 and on that occasion, Spain won through a late winner from Jesus Navas. It was a tight match with only one goal being scored and this fixture could be similarly competitive.
- Ivan Rakitic is the third most creative player in the tournament to date, with the Barcelona man creating nine chances for his team-mates.
- Alvaro Morata and Nolito have scored seven of of Spain’s last eight goals, showing their importance to the Spanish attack.
Many talk about the quality possessed by Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, and they are right to do so, as they are two of the most talented midfielders in world football. However, Ivan Perisic is central to Croatia’s style of play and a constant goal threat. He plays on the left of the attacking midfield three, but roams across the front line, looking for space to exploit. He was excellent against the Czech Republic, with his movement often getting him into goal-scoring positions. He scored the opening goal and showed his emphatic finishing ability, which he has shown time and time again for his national side. The Inter Milan midfielder is also decent in the air, and that is an area of his game that Croatia may look to exploit in aerial duels with Juanfran. At the age of 27, he is approaching his best years as a footballer and this tournament could be a springboard to greater things. He is the most direct player in the Croatian attack and will cause problems, especially on the counter attack.
The Barcelona legend has done all that there is to achieve in the game and the one thing that has alluded him is individual recognition, especially in terms of awards. However, that won’t bother the midfielder and this tournament has highlighted how he still has the drive and motivation to add even more medals to his glittering career. He is one of the best passers in the world and displayed that in the opening two group matches, completing the third most passes in the tournament so far. Iniesta isn’t just effective at maintaining possession, he also looks to play incisive passes and open up the opposition as he did frequently against Turkey. The 32-year-old is great at getting out of tight spots and always looks like he has the ball under his spell, as he showed on Friday, playing a neat overhead flick over an oncoming defender, to keep possession. There will be doubts about his ability to maintain these high levels of performance over the tournament as the amount of game time will have more effect than it has at previous tournaments, given his increasing age.
Darijo Srna is going to continue in the side after making the brave decision to continue playing given the tragic events in his personal life. Luka Modric is a doubt with a knock, but is probably going to recover in time to start against Spain.
Spain may look to rest some players given they are guaranteed a place in the next round and have great strength in depth. Koke and Hector Bellerin are contenders to come into the starting eleven if they decide to rest players.
This is going to tell us a lot about both sides and their chances in the competition. They have both been impressive so far, but neither Turkey or the Czech Republic look like they will do much at this tournament. These two sides are both exciting and will have aspirations of getting deep into the competition. I think Spain will end up having too much for Croatia, who showed their frailties on Friday giving up a two goal lead in a match they really should have closed out. The attacking play from Spain was very exciting, and they will cause every side in this tournament problems, with their overlapping full backs a crucial part of that. Alvaro Morata and Nolito will both be full of confidence and that could be a devastating partnership going into the knockout rounds.
Spain 2-0 Croatia