STAR PREVIEW: Wales v Croatia

The European Championship will always have wonderful memories for Wales after the amazing rollercoaster of 2016 but they’ve got a mountain to climb if they’re going to make it to next summer’s tournament.

Wales sit fourth in their qualification group after five games, but are six points behind today’s opponents Croatia and without a win here it’s likely they will be staying home next summer.

Back-to-back defeats against today’s opponents Croatia and Hungary in June – the first time Wales have lost successive qualifiers for six years – had put them onto the back foot but they kept their qualification hopes alive with a 1-1 draw against Slovakia when control of the game lurched from one side to the other in midweek. Wales started much the stronger and deserved their lead before Slovakia’s equaliser; then the game turned in the hosts’ favour before Norbert Gyömbér’s red card, and Wales eventually finished in control.

Wales are blessed with attacking talent and rarely fail to look dangerous going forward – even without Aaron Ramsey they still have superstar and record scorer Gareth Bale, Manchester United’s Dan James and also the option of Bournemouth starlet Harry Wilson. Wigan’s giant striker Kieffer Moore put Wales ahead in midweek with a goal on his first competitive start for his country and his physical presence allowed for more movement from James and Bale, but that tactical success was cancelled out by defensive weaknesses.

Wales v Croatia
UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier
19:45 S4C / Sky Sports Football HD / Sky Sports Main Event HD

HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
JUN 2019 EURO 2020 QUALIFYING Croatia 2-1 Wales
MAR 2013 WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING Wales 1-2 Croatia
OCT 2012 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING Croatia 2-0 Wales
MAY 2010 INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY Croatia 2-0 Wales
AUG 2002 INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY Croatia 1-1 Wales

Ryan Giggs has made 16 defensive changes in nine competitive fixtures and he has yet more dilemmas to ponder over, as he can stick with his young backline or bring in Neil Taylor from the bench to start the game. Either way, Wales have proven vulnerable at the back and they have given up 13 shots to Slovakia, eight to Cyprus and 14 to Hungary during the group stages so far.

That, along with a 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture when poor defending played a big part, is ominous for Welsh prospects. It’s possible that the Croatians could be past their very best, but they were World Cup finalists just over a year ago and they still have a tremendous amount of quality.

A 3-0 success over Hungary with two goals from striker Bruno Petkovic – who now has four goals in six matches – confirms that the Croats are in rude health. Luka Modric scored the opener last week and Zlatko Dalic has Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Ante Rebic and Ivan Rakitic all to choose from in an attacking lineup and Croatia’s quality will give them a fighting chance of booking their tickets to Euro 2020 next summer.

The 7/5 on the visitors seems fair, but the 6/5 on there being over 2.5 goals appeals more with the attacking quality on show from both sides and that’s the call here.

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