Croatia vs. Spain will be a fascinating round of 16 battle between two European powerhouses who started slowly in their respective group stage matches, and hope to be making strides in the knockout rounds after closing strong with emphatic victories.
Spain are definitely a team on the rise after a dominant 5-0 win over Slovakia that finally dispelled questions about the goal that have been plaguing manager Luis Enrique. That most recent match saw three different scorers in addition to two Slovakia’s own goals.
But Spain’s top striker Álvaro Morata, who received death threats after a missed penalty early in the game, was not a factor among that group of scorers. That fact will only continue to increase the pressure on him, although Enrique has staunchly defended Morata against skeptics for the past month.
Just as things were also starting to look up for Croatia, a 3-1 winner over Scotland in their last outing, the national team took a cruel blow with star winger Ivan Perisic testing positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss the match. against Spain. The Croatian national team will have a competent replacement for him, but it will be difficult to make up for what he brings.
Who scores for Spain this time?
When you have a team as dominant in possession as Spain (the Spaniards controlled between 66% and 81% of possession in their three group matches) the main topic of conversation will always be who puts it on the net.
Spain have been waiting for someone to step up to become the team’s established goalscorer. The Juventus Morata forward (above) is the current starting center forward, but while productive, he has never been what type of forward during his career. Nonetheless, the media and fan base expect him to take up the mantle, and until he saves his chances regularly (he has 1 goal of his team’s 2.8 expected goals), the level of scrutiny he faces will not dissipate.
MORE: Top scorers at Euro 2021
Morata’s movement into the area should prove to be a useful tool in unlocking the Croatian defense and his growing understanding with fellow attackers Gerard Moreno and Pablo Sarabia will result in increased production sooner or later.
Croatia missing star player
One of the reasons he would not be blamed for Croatia fading is the fact that perhaps their best player today, Perisic, will be out of the game for a mandatory 10 days and will not be available again until the final. That’s a punch for a Croatian team, which is surely aware of what it means for the team’s Euro 2021 opportunities.
Perisic has two of his team’s four goals in the Euro 2021 tournament so far, and he is a huge contributor to the Croatian attack from the wing position as a playmaker, crossfacer, spiker and aerial threat. He can improvise and make plays out of nowhere, recording the team’s fourth highest “expected goals + expected assists” by 90 minutes at Euro 2021.
AC Milan forward Ante Rebic is expected to replace Perisic on the left wing, especially if Bruno Petkovic maintains his starting position as center forward. Bundesliga attackers Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) and Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg) are the other options, although with the amount of follow-up that will likely be required in the match, Rebic would appear to be the obvious starting choice for his pace of work.
Croatia will be competitive, hard-working and dangerous in the set piece attack, and have the individual ability to create a game-breaking special play. If the 2018 World Cup finalists somehow achieve the first goal, they may find a way to win it.
Spain vs. Croatia odds and predictions
When you have as much consensus around a favorite as the one Spain is getting, it makes you think twice. But there is still a lot to like about this matchup for Spain, who have an expected goal difference of +5.5 by FBref, the highest in the tournament.
Even when (not if) Croatia are placed in a low block to protect their net, Spain has players with the 1v1 skill, intricate passing skills and, most of all, the patience to break through in a timely manner. And if things aren’t working out, Spain has solid options from the bench that can provide a different approach to solving the Croatian defense.
But another reason to feel good about Spain is that Luis Enrique’s team has practically the security of dominating the midfield and controlling the ball. The Pedri-Busquets-Koke trio have too much football and mobility to be threatened by their counterpart Modric-Brozovic-Kovacic. And Croatia will not be a threat in transition, which means that Spain can compromise numbers going forward.
This match may start off slow and tight, but Spain should wear down Croatia and once the first goal lands, they will probably follow more.
Prediction: Spain 3, Croatia 0
Fees courtesy of DraftKings
- Croatia wins (90 minutes): +575
- Croatia to advance: +260
- Draw (90 minutes): +280
- Spain wins (90 minutes): -167
- Spain to move forward: -335
- Spain to win to zero: +140
- Spain -2.5 Shots on target: +100
- Spain -1 Asian Handicap: +107
- The Spanish Álvaro Morata will score: +185
- More than 2.5 goals in total: +114
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.