Monday, 18 June 2012

Spain and Croatia to decide their fate tonight

Spain and Croatia head into this match knowing that a 2-2 draw will be enough to secure both teams a place in the quarter-finals and, not surprisingly, it has been suggested in some quarters that's exactly what they'll play out at the PGE Arena in Gdansk.

 Level on four points, top spot in the group and a supposedly easier opponent in the quarter-finals awaits the victor.

 But defeat carries a hefty penalty and could leave either side heading home, provided Italy, who trail the duo by two points, beat already eliminated Ireland.

 However, both camps have furiously denied that there'll be even a slight hint of collusion. Asked if Spain would consider playing for the draw, midfielder Xavi Hernandez said: "Absolutely not.

 We only know how to play attacking football so a draw would not suit us. Our aim is always to go out for victory and against Croatia it will be no exception.

 We will play to get three points from the first minute until the last.

" Spain will be at full strength for the pivotal match with midfielder Sergio Busquets recovered from a minor foot injury.

 Manager Vicente del Bosque is likely stick with striker Fernando Torres in attack after the No. 9 showed signs of rediscovering his long lost form with two goals in the confidence-boosting 4-0 win against Ireland.

 With La Roja looking close to their best, Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has admitted his team will need the "game of their lives" against the defending European champions.

 It's expected that Bilic will drop striker Nikica Jelavic and play Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric in support of front man Mario Mandzukic in order to pack out the midfield.

 Croatia player to watch: Mario Mandzukic. All eyes will be on the Wolfsburg forward after a brace against Ireland and a strike versus Italy made him joint-top scorer of Euro 2012 with three goals. But goals aren't all that Mandzukic brings to the team.

 The 26-year-old's link-up play provides a constant threat and if he is to feature as a lone striker this will be an asset he will have to exploit to the maximum.

 Mandzukic can also play as winger and his ability to prod and probe all along the Spanish back-four should allow him to fully exploit any weakness in what is supposed to be their Achilles heel.

 Spain player to watch: David Silva.

 The Manchester City star was part of the trio of midfielders who made up the front line of Spain's controversial 4-6-0 formation against Italy and laid on the goal for Cesc Fabregas.

 However, he was much more at home when a recognised No. 9 was restored to the side, he played a part in both of Torres' goals and popped up to score on himself.

 With Torres due to lead the line again, Silva should be at his best.

 Key Battle: Luka Modric v Sergio Busquets Modric has adapted to a deeper role as playmaker for club and country but against Spain he will be thrust further forward, providing the link between midfield and Croatia's sole striker. 

The tricky forward is certainly good enough to do the job but Spain know that if they keep him quiet they will nullify Croatia's attack. That will be the job of Busquets, Spain's destroyer, such as it is.

 Stat: Mario Mandzukic has had only four shots for Croatia at Euro 2012 but has scored with three of them, so watch out.


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