Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/4
Wales are set to take on Croatia at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday evening as the two teams work their way through the Group E of the Euro 2020 qualifications.
A short glance to the standing in the group will tell you that Wales haven’t done particularly well so far, sitting in fourth place with seven points, above only Azerbaijan, but it’s important to note that they do have a game in hand on all of the three teams placed above. However, Ryan Giggs and his men will now need to make sure that advantage counts for something when the time comes to reduce the gap and complicate the situation at the top side of the table.
The last game the Welsh played, a 1-1 draw away to Slovakia, was a decent result at a tough place to visit, and Giggs pointed out afterwards that the performance in Trnava represented a step in the right direction. But in fact, the result could be described as average for this team – in the five games they played, they both scored and conceded totals of five goals.
Giggs made four changes against Slovakia compared to the team he fielded in the previous qualifier (against Azerbaijan). Though he was initially reported as likely to take part, Aaron Ramsey of Juventus was absent, and the midfielder is therefore unlikely to appear against Croatia as well.
Bournemouth defender Chris Mepham is out with an injury, but Giggs’s decision to replace him with Charlton’s 24-year-old Tom Lockyer over the experience of Ashley Williams not only raised a few eyebrows, but almost proved costly with Lockyer not quite performing to standards expected. It will be interesting to see what the former Manchester United winger will do this time.
The World Cup finalists sit at the top of the group with some comfort, it would appear, but their three-point lead could slip through their fingers if they are beaten in Cardiff and fail to beat Slovakia in Zagreb in November. Not allowing Wales to inflict defeat on them would certainly be a big step, and given the quality they possess, they seem more than capable of making sure they finish in first place. However, it still remains a job to be done at the moment.
They beat Hungary at home by 3-0 a few days ago, and that result will give them confidence ahead of the Wales trip together with the fact that they beat this opponent at home back in June. It remains to be seen if they have learned their lesson from the disappointing 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan in September, however.
Having lost a regular spot at Juventus, Mario Mandzukic seems to have lost his place in the national team as well. He has been replaced by Bruno Petkovic of Dinamo Zagreb, who scored twice against Hungary to improve the chances of making the starting place upfront his own.
On the other hand, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic are still a big part of the team, even if the two Spanish giants are looking for long-term replacements, according to various reports. At the back, the centre-back pair of Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida of Besiktas remains, and in the absence of AS Monaco’s Danijel Subasic, goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, a reported target for Manchester United, has been impressive between the posts.
This should be a close contest with both teams boasting strong motivation, but with a potential victory practically sealing Euro 2020 place for the Croats, it’s likely that their quality shines on the day and they return home with three points.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/4