Croatia v Spain will be a fascinating round of 16 battle between two European powers who have both started slowly in their respective group stage matches, and hope to reach their own pace in the round of 16 after finishing strong with some emphatic victories.
Spain are definitely a booming team after a dominant 5-0 victory over Slovakia that ultimately dispelled the scoring questions that haunted manager Luis Enrique. This most recent match saw three different scorers in addition to two goals against his Slovak side.
But Spain’s top striker Alvaro Morata, who received death threats after a missed penalty earlier in the game, did not take that group of scorers into account. This fact will only continue to increase the pressure on him, although Enrique has firmly defended Morata against skeptics over the past month.
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Just as things were also starting to improve for Croatia, a 3-1 winner over Scotland in their last outing, the national team received a cruel blow with star winger Ivan Perisic testing positive for COVID -19, forcing him to miss the game against Spain. The Croatian 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 games – the main topic of conversation is always going to come down to who puts it in the net.
Spain were waiting for someone to become the team’s top scorer. Juventus forward Morata (above) is the current starting center-forward, but although productive he has never been this kind of striker during his career. The media and the fan base nevertheless expect him to take on the role, and as long as he doesn’t regularly put his chances aside (he has 1 goal out of the 2.8 goals expected from his team), the level of oversight it faces will not dissipate.
MORE: Euro 2021 top scorers
Morata’s move into the box should prove to be a useful tool in unlocking the Croatian defense and his growing understanding with teammates Gerard Moreno and Pablo Sarabia will sooner or later translate into increased production.
One of the reasons you wouldn’t be blamed for Croatia’s fading is the fact that perhaps their best player today, Perisic, will be out for a mandatory 10 days and won’t be available until the final. It’s a blow to a Croatian side, who are surely aware of what it means for the team’s chances at Euro 2021.
Perisic has two of his side’s four goals so far at the Euro 2021 tournament, and he is a huge contributor to the Croatian attack from the wing position as a playmaker, centralizer, finisher and aerial threat. He can improvise and make plays from scratch, registering the team’s fourth-highest “expected goals + assists” every 90 minutes at Euro 2021.
Expect AC Milan striker Ante Rebic to replace Perisic on the left wing, especially if Bruno Petkovic retains his starting place at the center-forward position. Bundesliga strikers 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 game, Rebic would appear to be the obvious starting option for his pace of work. .
Croatia will be competitive, hardworking and dangerous on set pieces, and they have the individual skills to deliver a special and revolutionary game. If the 2018 World Cup finalists manage to score the first goal, they might find a way to win it.
Spain vs Croatia odds and predictions
When you have as much consensus around a favorite as Spain collects, it makes you think twice. But there is still too much to love about this game for Spain, who have an expected goal difference of +5.5 by FBref.
Even when (not so) Croatia move into a low block to protect their net, Spain have players with 1-on-1 ability, complex passing skills and most importantly, the patience to break through at the right time. And if things don’t work out, Spain have some solid options on the bench that can provide a different approach to resolving the Croatian defense.
But another reason to feel good with Spain is that Luis Enrique’s side are virtually guaranteed to dominate the midfield and control the ball. The Pedri-Busquets-Koke trio have too much football and mobility to be threatened by their counterpart Modric-Brozovic-Kovacic. And Croatia won’t be a threat in transition, which means Spain can commit to moving forward.
This game could start slowly and tight, but Spain should wear down Croatia and once the first goal is scored more will likely follow.
Prediction: Spain 3, Croatia 0
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- Croatia winner (90 min): +575
- Croatia to move forward: +260
- Prize draw (90 min): +280
- Spain wins (90 min): -167
- Spain advances: -335
- Spain winner at zero: +140
- Spain -2.5 Shots on target +100
- Spain -1 Asian Handicap: +107
- Spaniard Alvaro Morata scores: +185
- Over 2.5 goals in total: +114