When Croatia meet Spain in their final Euro 2016 group match on Tuesday there will be as much scrutiny of developments in the stands as on the pitch.
Friday’s 2-2 draw for Croatia with the Czech Republic was halted with four minutes to play when supporters again threw flares and fought among themselves. After the teams returned to the pitch, Croatia’s players felt their concentration had been disturbed, which contributed to the Czechs scoring a late equaliser with a penalty.
Spain, meanwhile, are moving serenely through the group stages. A 1-0 win over Czech Republic preceded a 3-0 cruise against Turkey. Alex Holiga (Croatia) and Eduardo Alvarez (Spain) preview Tuesday’s clash.
In team news centre-back Vedran Corluka is doubtful after aggravating a head wound against the Czechs. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque could rotate his squad, with their place in the last 16 already assured. Centre-back Sergio Ramos is one booking away from a suspension and may be rested.
Croatia and Spain have only met on five previous occasions and it’s the latter who lead the head-to-head with three wins, one draw and defeat.
The only time they’ve met competitively was at Euro 2012 when a Jesus Navas goal decided the match in Spain’s favour.
Croatia coach Ante Cacic had the following to say, “This is the game that decides who will be first in our group. We are up against a quality side, the double European champions, a team full of quality, of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. A team that know the game and take their chances. They have been playing big games like these for years.”
“In some ways we have to have an eye on what is coming up in the knockout stage, so we will use this game as preparation for that. We deserve to get to the next round, as do Spain. The group was really tough. We threw away victory against the Czech Republic, but this match now will help define how Croatia do from here onwards.”
“Del Bosque says we’re playing the best football in the group? I haven’t heard that but it’s a big compliment coming from one of the best coaches of one of the best national teams.”
They battle is between the two Barcelona midfielders. With Luka Modric, Croatia might have a chance — perhaps not to win it, but at least no to be completely overrun in the middle of the park. The mini-maestro is not fully fit and he’s unlikely to appear and that means Rakitic becomes crucial. The duel between the two Barcelona players could be the most interesting of matchups.
If they want to come out with anything from this, Croatia will need Rakitic’s massive contribution in both defence and arrack. Busquets will be out there to make that very difficult for him.
This is what Spain coach Vincente del Bosque had to say about the midfield battle.
“Luka Modrić is one of Croatia’s best players and has been excellent for Real Madrid. Generally speaking, though, Croatia are a really well-organised outfit. We are going to try to beat them and we will pick what we think are the 11 best players at this moment in time. Bear in mind that Croatia are possibly one of the best teams we have seen at the tournament so far.”