ESP vs CRO, Euro 2024 preview: Croatia looks to avenge Nations League final loss against Spain

With memories of a shootout defeat to Spain still fresh in its mind, Croatia seems ready to again challenge the pre-tournament odds in its quest to win a major trophy.

Published : Jun 14, 2024 20:24 IST , DORTMUND, Germany - 3 MINS READ

Spain beat Croatia in the UEFA Nations League final, with La Roja clinching the title with a 5-4 win on penalties.
Spain beat Croatia in the UEFA Nations League final, with La Roja clinching the title with a 5-4 win on penalties. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Spain beat Croatia in the UEFA Nations League final, with La Roja clinching the title with a 5-4 win on penalties. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Spain and Croatia begin their Euro 2024 campaigns on Saturday with a rematch of last year’s nervy UEFA Nations League final as they kick off the action in Group B, which also includes European champions Italy and surprise package Albania.

With memories of a heartbreaking shootout defeat to Spain still fresh in their minds, captain Luka Modric’s perennial overachievers seem ready to again challenge the pre-tournament odds in their quest to finally win a major trophy.

FOLLOW: LIVE updates of the Spain vs Croatia EURO Group B clash

After reaching the 2018 World Cup final and making the semifinals four years later, having fought back to eliminate five-times champion Brazil on penalties at Qatar 2022, the Nations League final loss to Spain was a tough pill to swallow.

It also raised questions of how long the country’s ‘golden generation’ can keep on writing one of the great underdog stories in recent soccer history.

Yet Croatia goes into the tournament still relying on a midfield trio of Modric (39), Marcelo Brozovic (31) and Mateo Kovacic (30), who gave a taste of its competitive hunger on Saturday when it handed Portugal a 2-1 defeat in Lisbon.

The result did not reflect the visitor’s dominance against Roberto Martinez’s side, which was subdued despite being almost at full strength with Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Vitinha and Ruben Dias in the starting 11.

The win gave Zlatko Dalic’s side a boost for its Euro 2024 debut against old rivals Spain - one of the few elite teams giant-killer Croatia has regularly failed to slain.

Spain is partly to blame for Croatia’s failure to hit the same World Cup highs at the European Championship in which its best result has been reaching the quarterfinals twice.

It will be the fourth straight Euros in which their paths cross, with Jesus Navas’ late goal in the 2012 group stage giving Spain a 1-0 victory and a place in the quarters, while it also won 5-3 after extra time in the last 16 at Euro 2020.

ALSO READ: EURO 2024: Full guide of teams, groups, stadiums, players, European Championships schedule in Germany

Croatia did, however, beat Spain 2-1 in the group stage at Euro 2016 to top the group ahead of them.

“We played them many times and we know what kind of football Spain like to play, they like possession and lulling the opposition to sleep,” Croatia striker Ante Budimir told a press conference on Wednesday.

“They can be very quick and vertical at any time. As a team, they are nice to watch and easy to enjoy. (Midfielder) Rodri is very important for them. They have a lot of young players who can make a difference. A very talented and dangerous team...”

Since taking over the Spain job from Luis Enrique after the 2022 World Cup debacle, when it was knocked out in the last 16 on penalties by surprise package Morocco, manager Luis de la Fuente has been blending the country’s young and ascending talent with experienced players very successfully.

Veteran defenders Dani Carvajal and Nacho, with Rodri in the middle and captain Alvaro Morata up front, provide the foundation and balance to allow Spain’s skilled youngsters Lamine Yamal, Nico Williams and Pedri to create their magic.

Will that be enough to keep their winning run alive against gritty Croatia?

“We didn’t come to Germany on vacation, on a tour trip, we are here to win and we’ll do our best to do that,” 16-year-old winger Yamal told reporters on Wednesday. “Saturday’s game against Croatia is probably the most important of my career.

“They are a very strong team, very difficult to beat because they grow in these competitions. They have a lot of experience and it’s clear to us that it’s going to be one of the most difficult matches we will face.”

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