Wales take on World Cup finalists, Croatia, in Cardiff on Sunday in a crucial Group E clash and Steve Rawlings fancies the visitors to claim the points...
"I’m more than happy to side with the visitors at around 6/4. Thursday night’s demolition of Hungary was impressive, as was their 4-0 victory in Slovakia last month and I suspect they’ll have too much quality for a Welsh side lacking in depth."
Wales v Croatia
Sunday 13 October, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Slovak draw keeps Welsh dreams alive
After Thursday night's 1-1 draw with Slovakia in Trnava, Wales sit fourth in European Championship qualifying Group F with only Azerbaijan below them but the picture isn't as grim as it looks. Their final two games - away against Azerbaijan and at home to Hungary in November - are both eminently winnable and they can sneak through to the finals with victory in those two matches - even if they lose to Croatia on Sunday night.
Wales played really well in the first half on Thursday and they led 1-0 at the break thanks to a headed goal by their 6ft 5in Torquay-born striker, Kieffer Moore, who was starting for the Dragons for the very first time in a competitive match, having made his debut against Belarus in September.
Slovakia levelled with a stunning second half strike by Juraj Kucka and although it was disappointing for the Welsh not to get all three points, avoiding defeat was crucial and the draw serves them far better than it does the Slovaks. Should the two teams end the group on the same points in second place, Wales would progress due to their superior head-to head record. They beat Slovakia 1-0 in Cardiff back in March.
Hungover Croatians finding their feet
Croatia have suffered something of a hangover after losing the World Cup final last summer. They failed to win a game in the Nations League, with a 6-0 defeat to Spain the obvious low point. They lost a friendly at home to Tunisia in June and although they now head Group F, it hasn't all been plain sailing.
They began their campaign with a hard-fought 2-1 win against lowly-ranked Azerbaijan, thanks to a 44th minute equaliser and 79th minute winner, and they followed that with a 2-1 defeat in Hungary. Azerbaijan's sole point to date came courtesy of a hugely surprising 1-1 draw at home to the Croats last month but they were far more business-like on Thursday when they made short shrift of the Hungarians - running out very easy 3-0 winners.
Zlatko Dalić's side went 1-0 up after just five minutes and the game was over by half-time when Luka Modrić's early strike was followed up by a Bruno Petković brace. The Croats had a penalty saved in the 54th minute but it mattered not and with the game won, Dalić was able to substitute the likes of Modrić, Rakitić and Perišić ahead of Sunday's clash in Cardiff.
Classy visitors to prove too strong for weak Welsh
These two nations first met in a friendly in 2002 in Croatia, where they played out a 1-1 draw and that remains the best result the Welsh have managed against Sunday's opponents. They lost another friendly in Croatia in 2010 (2-0) and they were twice beaten in World Cup qualification two years later - 2-0 away and 2-1 at home, courtesy of two late goals after Gareth Bale had given the Welsh the lead from the penalty spot.
Their first Group F game in Osijek in June also ended in a 2-1 win for the Croats. The home side dominated possession and went 2-0 up just after the break but Wales were no pushovers. They equalled the Croat's shot tally of ten, David Brooks equalised with a deflected shot in the 77th minute, and the Welsh pressed them all the way to the end in what were stiflingly hot conditions.
We have to go back ten games to 4-1 friendly defeat to Spain to find the last time a game involving the Welsh produced more than three goals and four of their last nine games have ended up 1-0 (two wins and two defeats), so it's perhaps no surprise to see Under 2.5 goals trading at odds-on but I quite like overs at odds-against given Croatia have put two past the Welsh in each of their last four encounters and that eight of the last nine games involving Croatia have produced at least three.
Although much more damaging for the Welsh, defeat for either team wouldn't be catastrophic, but it's hard to envisage them playing out a draw. Wales' 1-1 on Thursday night was their first stalemate in 13 consecutive matches so it's hard to see them following that up with another and I expect the home side to go out all guns blazing.
Gareth Bale has described Sunday's encounter as an humungous game and a must win match for Wales but I'm more than happy to side with the visitors at around 6/4. Thursday night's demolition of Hungary was impressive, as was their 4-0 victory in Slovakia last month and I suspect they'll have too much quality for a Welsh side lacking in depth.
Staked: 12.5 pts
Returned: 7.3 pts
P/L: - 5.2 pts
2 pts Croatia @ [2.56]