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Croatia vs Spain Preview

Spain lock horns with Croatia in Denmark

Croatia and Spain lock horns in front of a passionate Denmark crowd for a Euro 2020 quarter-final berth that would see the winners possibly face either France or Switzerland.

Both nations got off to underwhelming starts to the tournament, only winning their final group stage clashes respectively to qualify for the knockout stages where the competition is set to heat up during the business end.

Expectancy in both camps will be for the best players to display their talents when it matters the most, while masterful midfield stalwarts Luka Modric and Sergio Busquets are handing the torch over to the new generation of footballers, but still have enough in the tank to be massive influences to surprise a few of the more fancied teams.

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Euro 2020 Round of 16
Monday 28 June
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen

To Win (90 min)
Croatia 54/10
Draw 26/10
Spain 6/10

To Qualify
Croatia 51/20
Spain 1/4


Spain boss Luis Enrique came under heavy scrutiny for not including any Real Madrid players in his squad, with their talismanic leader of men, Sergio Ramos, astoundingly left out for a major tournament after missing out large periods of the season recovering from a knee injury (anterior cruciate ligament).

The only Galactico on the pitch will be Croatian captain Modric, now 35-years-old. The 2018 FIFA Ballon d'Or winner doesn’t perform the role we’ve been accustomed to over the years, pulling the strings from the deep-lying midfield areas, but rather closer to the striker where the team could maximise dividends on his sheer class and ability to pick out a pass ‘through the eye of a needle’.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic (27) and Inter Milan’s midfield pivot Marcelo Brozovic (28) are in their prime years in terms of being fit enough to continue pressing a Spain team that are expected to play a thousand short passes in 90 minutes, while also possessing the experience and patience to identify a weakness in the Spanish armour and also penetrate it with a telling pass to the strikers.

AC Milan forward Ante Rebic was relegated to a cameo appearance off the bench in Croatia’s only Euro 2020 victory after struggling to lead the line in their first two games. Personally, I wouldn’t blame Rebic, as his predominantly a winger at club level. I’d prefer Hoffenheim spearhead Andrej Kramaric playing through the middle with the pace of Rebic, Ivan Perisic or youngster Josip Brekalo on either flank to stretch the opposition defence in order for Modric to work his magic.

Coach Zlatko Dalic began with towering Dinamo Zagreb striker Bruno Petkovic against Scotland. The imposing 1.93-metre-tall goal poacher will be a massive threat in aerial duels against a Spain team that aren’t renowned for being one of the most physical outfits in world football.

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Aymeric Laporte steps into the colossus boots of Ramos, who represented Spain 180 times, in the heart of central defence. The Manchester City defender hasn’t featured as much as he would have liked to at club level, with the emergence of Ruben Dias and John Stones forming a formidable partnership while Laporte was injured, but there’s no doubting his qualities.

His calmness in possession, ability to anticipate and nullify danger is exactly the boost La Roja needed with Ramos expected to hang up his boots in the near future. Don’t forget about the 1.91-metre-tall defender’s prowess in set-piece situations that saw him score his first goal for Spain in the 5-0 thrashing of minnows Slovakia.

Villarreal’s Pau Torres has been touted for a big move with many of the European heavyweights chasing his signature after the 24-year-old enjoyed a stellar season which saw him lift the UEFA Europa League. Eric Garcia is expected to return to the bench after deputizing for Torres against Slovakia.

Spain’s strength lies in their ‘tiki-taka’ ideology of how the beautiful game should be played. No player is more important than another with every outfield player also expected to initiate a rapid press to win back the ball, being their most impressive trait in this particular spell of games for me.

The major talking point has to be misfiring striker Alvaro Morata. If the Juventus forward was more clinical with the chances created, Spain would’ve topped Group E instead of Sweden that would’ve seen La Roja avoid France in the next round.

Luckily, there’s enough time to remedy the situation in the knockout stages. Dani Olmo knows many of the Croatian players from his spell at Dinamo Zagreb, the versatile RB Leipzig player is one that has gone under radar at Euro 2020. His tendency to stretch the play on the left flank alongside Jordi Alba is the area that the opposition need to focus on, or the left footers will run riot.

Prediction: Spain (6/10)
It remains to be seen if Atletico Madrid’s Marcos Llorente will return to the starting XI and have the opportunity to showcase his skills on the big stage in his preferred midfield role. Nevertheless, I see Spain causing many problems for Croatia who lack depth, while the likes of Llorente, Thiago Alcantara and Ferran Torres find themselves on the bench in a team blessed with quality.

Written by Bryan Naicker