2018-19 UEFA Nations League: Croatia v Spain, Preview and Prediction
Spain will be looking to qualify for the knockout stages of the UEFA Nations League with a victory over Croatia in Zagreb. The Spaniards are currently leading Group A4 by two points ahead of England and victory will put them out of sight of the Three Lions, no matter what the result is at Wembley.
Croatia did make the final of this year's World Cup though and have some quality players, a lot of which are well-accustomed to Spain's stars, so this won't be a straightforward game.
Croatia 2-1 Jordan (Friendly)
After being held by England behind closed doors, Croatia got back to winning ways in a friendly against Jordan. Zlatko Dalic's side predictably dominated the game, controlling possession and the majority of the chances, despite what the final scoreline suggests.
Domogoj Vida scored after 24 minutes to put the home side ahead but it took until the second half for the Croatians to get a cushion, but Matej Mitrovic doubled their lead after the hour mark. Baha Faisal reduced the visitors' deficit soon after, but Croatia ran out victors.
Spain 2-3 England (Nations League)
Spain fell to their first home defeat against England since 1992 on a night that could've seen La Furia Roja qualify for the knockout stages with a game remaining in the group stages.
Everybody expected England to struggle, especially after the Three Lions were defeated at home earlier in the campaign, but they produced one of their most impressive first half displays for years. Raheem Sterling (2) and Marcus Rashford put the away side in control, as their deadly counter-attack tore Spain apart and saw them lead 0-3 going into the break. the home side slowly came back into the game during the second half, Paco Alcacer making into 1-3 after an hour before Captain Sergio Ramos got a last minute consolation goal from a corner.
Yep, it's the same XI which drew against England. This is probably the strong XI which is available to Zlatko Dalic, with the possible exception of the goalkeeper, Kalinic could make an appearance in place of Livakovic, although the latter pulled off some impressive saves and kept a clean sheet in their last competitive outing.
Luis Enrique will likely name a similar side to the one which lost against England in the previous matchday, after all, this is a competitive game. The only changes being the introduction of Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Alvaro Morata after the pair have enjoyed a good run of form for their club, they come in place of Nacho and Castro.
Key Player: Luka Modric
Both Spain and Croatia have some of the most creative midfield players on the planet on the pitch on Thursday. Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Thiago and Isco all play for top sides, but the pick of the bunch has to be Luka Modric. The Real Madrid maestro was a key component in Croatia's world cup run and Madrid's success in the Champions League. Even with a relatively lacklustre striker up front, Modric will be providing amazing service to the front man, and Spain will have to close him down or face the consequences.
Spain to qualify on the night?
Spain will qualify for the knockout stages with a victory in Zagreb, and a draw from England v Croatia would mean them advancing to the next stage. With the seeding in the knockouts heavily favouring the Group A teams, they will most likely qualify for Euro 2020 without playing a single qualifying bout.
Croatia meanwhile will need to win from either this or the England match to stand any chance of avoiding relegation, but they could still win the group if they beat both the Three Lions and Spain. That's a very unlikely scenario, however, this is country that consistently defies the odds to surprise everyone, including this year at the World Cup.
Prediction: Croatia 1-3 Spain
After hitting the Croats for six in their previous meeting, Spain surely have to make it two wins out of two against Croatia. It won't be as big of a difference as last time, partly because it's an away venue for the Spaniards, and partly because they'll be wiser to the away side's tactics.
A draw would make the final group game interesting, but I can't see England or Croatia beating them overall. Croatia will do well to avoid relegation to league B and