From Friday’s Euro 2016 Qualifying matches, Croatia v Italy is easily one of the most appealing. Croatia currently top Group H on 13 points, while Italy hold second on 11 points. An Italy victory would see Gli Azzurri seize first place after the first six games.
The problem, though, is that Croatia have been extremely good. Across five matches, the Croatians have scored 15 and conceded only two goals while securing four wins and a draw from five games. The draw came in a tense 1-1 encounter against Italy back in November.
All was supposed to go smoothly for the Italians. They managed to scoop up Antonio Conte as head coach after the fiery tactician departed Juventus at the tail-end of last summer, while some of the younger players gathered vital experience from the 2014 World Cup. However, they have only scored eight goals and conceded four.
Croatia have already faced the toughest game in their schedule, taking a point back from Italy. They are still in the lead and can hold their position so long as they can avoid a loss at home.
Unfortunately, though, the Croatians will have to get by without injured Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modrić. The 29-year-old winner of last season’s Champions League was ruled out for the season with a thigh injury towards the end of April. Inter Milan youngster Mateo Kovačić cannot replace the experience of Modrić.
Italy are currently working through a transition phase in which they are loaded with players approaching the end of their international careers, and those who are at the beginning. Youngsters like Marco Verratti and Roberto Soriano have to step up in the midfield.
A low-scoring affair would be of no surprise. Neither side will feel confident of winning the group after a loss. And so, avoiding that outcome could be the greater priority for Croatia and Italy.
Tip one: Draw @ 3.10
Tip two: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.50
Italy have an ageing side that will focus on solidarity and limiting the Croatian attack. Odds of 3.10 on a draw look good.