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Preview: Spain and Croatia lock horns in blockbuster Euro 2024 ‘group of death’ opener

Proceedings in the 2024 UEFA European Championship Group B get underway on Saturday evening as Spain and Croatia go head-to-head in a blockbuster fixture.

Olympiastadion in Berlin forms the backdrop for a repeat of a fascinating match-up from the Euro 2020 round of 16 when the Spaniards got the better of Zlatko Dalic’s side in the tournament’s most prolific game.

After a goal-glutted 3-3 draw in regulation, goals from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal fired La Furia Roja to a stunning 5-3 extra-time win, only for eventual winners Italy to curtail their run in the semi-finals.

Connoisseurs of action-packed football will, therefore, look forward to this encounter. While another festival of goals isn’t out of the question, a more conservative approach could be in store.

This group is aptly named a ‘group of death.’ In addition to the three-time champions Spain and perennial overachievers Croatia, reigning holders Italy are also in the mix.

It paints a bleak picture for minnows Albania, who will face Luciano Spalletti’s side later in the night, but highlights the significance of getting a result on the opening day.

A spectacle seems guaranteed in Berlin as the two continental heavyweights bid to make Euro 2024 tickets worth every penny in the most exciting encounter of the opening round.

Spain vs Croatia head-to-head record

Spain claimed a 3-1 win when the nations first met in a friendly in 1999.

The early days of this fixture were plain sailing for the Iberian colossi, with La Furia Roja going unbeaten in the first four meetings between the sides (W3, D1).

However, the Blazers have found a foothold in this match-up in the past decade, racking up two wins and two draws across their last five showdowns against the Spaniards, extra-time excluded.

That run includes a 2-1 win in the Euro 2016 group stages when the Croats pipped Spain to a top-table finish in Group D

Luis de la Fuente’s team needed penalties to oust Croatia in their last meeting, edging them out in the 2023 UEFA Nations League final following a scoreless affair in regulation.

History beckons for Spain

Only Euro 2024 hosts Germany boast as many European titles as Spain. Both teams have three trophies to their name, meaning this could be a historic event for the Iberians.

As the only side in the European Championships history to have defended the crown, the Spaniards are always part of title conversations.

Though their recent results at major international tournaments, including a disheartening last-16 exit at the 2022 World Cup, can’t inspire much confidence, they’re among the favourites to conquer the continent.

Wantaway Atletico Madrid forward Alvaro Morata will wear the captain’s armband amidst growing talks he could team up with Serie A powerhouse Roma, as per TMW.

Is it time for a quantum leap?

It’s the only question troubling Zlatko Dalic’s mind.

Croatia are no strangers to standout results on the grandest stages, yet major honours have proved elusive for the former Yugoslavian country.

Since a third-place finish in their World Cup debut in 1998, they’ve been flirting with glory but to no avail.

France crashed their dreams in the 2018 World Cup final, while they had to settle for another third-place finish in Qatar two years ago.

But they couldn’t translate their stupendous World Cup exploits to the continental front, never progressing beyond the European Championships quarter-finals.

With Real Madrid stalwart Luka Modric preparing for his last major tournament as the Croatia captain, the Blazers are determined to make a deep run in Germany.

As pointed out in The Guardian’s recent column, this might be the ex-Ballon d’Or winner’s ‘last dance,’ signalling the end of an illustrious chapter in Croatia’s storied footballing history.

Spain’s road to Euro 2024

Despite Scotland’s best efforts to spoil Spain’s lofty ambitions, De la Fuente’s side steamrolled to a top-table finish in qualifying Group A, leaving the Tartan Army four points behind.

Except for a 2-0 defeat at Hampden Park on Matchday 2, it was a flawless qualifying cycle for the Spaniards as they won all seven remaining games by a combined score of 25-3.

But Spain’s preparations for the tournament were off to a sluggish start.

After a 1-0 friendly loss to Colombia, they spurned a two-goal cushion in a 3-3 draw against Brazil.

La Furia Roja have timed their return to form to perfection, dispatching sub-par rivals Andorra and Northern Ireland in their final warm-up matches via an aggregate score of 10-1.

Croatia’s road to Euro 2024

Unlike Spain, Croatia experienced a turbulent qualifying campaign, securing their sixth consecutive Euros appearance with an unconvincing 1-0 home win against Armenia in the final round.

Dalic’s team claimed a runner-up spot in qualifying Group D behind Turkey (W5, D1, L2), beating Wales to automatic qualification by four points.

Yet, defeats to both these nations left plenty to be desired, raising suspicion over the Blazers ageing first-team pillars’ ability to perform at the highest level.

A faultless warm-up campaign featuring four wins, including a 2-1 victory at Portugal last time out, served to re-establish confidence around Dalic’s camp ahead of the tournament.

Team News

In addition to long-serving aces like Rodri and Dani Carvajal, Spain will rely on young blood in Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal to lead the team’s charge to glory.

Bayer Leverkusen star Alejandro Grimaldo and Barcelona playmaker Pedri should help the abovementioned quartet form the backbone of La Furia Roja’s ambitious line-up.

As for Croatia, Modric will link up with his old partners Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic in a star-studded midfield.

Manchester City defender Josko Gvardiol will be the cornerstone of Dalic’s rearguard, with Andrej Kramaric expected to lead the line.

Spain vs Croatia Potential Line-ups

Spain (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Dani Carvajal, Robin Le Normand, Nacho Fernandez, Alejandro Grimaldo; Fabian Ruiz, Rodri, Pedri; Lamine Yamal, Alvaro Morata, Nico Williams.

Croatia (4-3-3): Dominik Livakovic; Josip Stanisic, Josip Sutalo, Marin Pongracic, Josko Gvardiol; Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric; Lovro Majer, Ante Budimir, Andrej Kramaric.


If there’s a midfield capable of matching Spain’s technical and tactical prowess, it’s the one that will line up against them in Berlin.

With both teams preferring to build from the back, relying on a patient hold-up play, a slow-paced game could be on the cards.

The match will probably go down to the wire, with the side with more composure in the front third likely to boast better chances of posting an all-important win.

However, we can easily envisage a share of the spoils.

It’s not impossible to imagine a goalless duel, yet both managers have plenty of firepower at their disposal, making a 1-1 score sound like the most probable outcome.

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