Euro 2024

Croatia v Albania: 13/8 and 3/1 tips as Modric & co to return to their major tournament best

Luka Modric dons the armband for Croatia
Luka Modric's influence should return on matchday two

Two teams in need of a victory face off in Hamburg on Wednesday, and Jamie Kemp is expecting a more recognisable Croatia to take charge of events on matchday two...

Croatia v Albania
Wednesday 19 June, 14:00
Live on ITV 1

Winning on MD2 crucial for both sides

Wednesday afternoon's game pits together the two sides without a point in Group B, which makes game number two pretty essential for both Croatia and Albania. In looking at each other, they'll both see their best remaining chance to put three points on the board in the group.

Certainly from Croatia's perspective, it was pretty clear to see thoughts were already turning to MD2 during their defeat against Spain in their opener. The 65th-minute double sub of both Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic was a case of Zlatko Dalic preserving freshness for the next outing, while the second half also gave them a good chance to put some minutes into the legs of Ivan Perisic, who could well start versus Albania.

As for the nature of both side's MD1 defeats, the scorelines didn't quite tell the full story.

Albania were beaten by a single goal against Italy, but were dominated for long spells and rarely looked close to earning a result - even when Federico Dimarco gave them a big helping hand inside 23 seconds. When their opponents had turned the game round by the 16th minute, Sylvinho's side looked unsure of how to flip the defensive switch back to a more ambitious one.

Meanwhile, Croatia's 0-3 defeat looks damning on paper, but was an exaggerated result in truth. Zlatko Dalic's side had more shots (16-11) and edged the possession battle (53%) versus Spain, yet somehow failed to score despite posting a notable 2.4 xG in the game. Indeed, they only surpassed 2 xG in one game when they finished third overall at the 2022 World Cup.

In a match where both sides will have to force the issue in search of a precious MD2 victory, I'll stick with a theme of the tournament so far and look towards shots from outside the box.

Croatia had six in their opener against Spain and should have the attacking edge here, while Albania had four against Italy despite only having 32% possession (which I expect to be higher this time round). Shots from range were also a speciality of Albania's during EURO 2024 qualifying, with 56% of their attempts coming from outside the box.

Croatia's stars to come to the party

As mentioned before, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic had a lighter runout than expected versus Spain - even if the latter looked particularly annoyed at seeing the board go up.

While Kovacic still performed well versus Spain, it was an opener to forget for Luka Modric given his usual tournament performances. However, ahead of a second game against an Albania side they'll be expected to beat, I think we'll see Modric and co look a lot more like we expect them to at the major tournaments here.

With the drop-off in opposition going from Spain to Albania, Croatia's midfield ought to be a key theme of the game here, with much more initiative inevitably coming their way. Across the last four major tournaments (World Cup/EUROs), Modric has averaged 82 touches per 90, with Kovacic not far behind on 76 per 90.

As featured parts of the team, I'll go with both of those players to be fouled at least once against Albania. While Modric has been fouled 30 times across his last 17 appearances for Croatia, Kovacic has won at least one in eight of his last 10 appearances. What's more, the Man City midfielder had some excellent runs against Spain last time out, completing four out of four attempted dribbles. He's a ball carrier to be feared.

I'll also go with 1+ shot on target for both Lovro Majer and Ivan Perisic here. Majer's influence is growing for Croatia, while he's been directly involved in the most goals for Dalic's side since the start of the 2023-24 campaign (6 - four goals, two assists). He's also had 14 shots across his last seven internationals, including hitting the target in three of his last four.

Meanwhile, Perisic was particularly active after coming off the bench against Spain last time out. No player had more shots than him in the game (3), despite only being on the pitch from the 56th-minute onwards. And across his last 10 starts for Croatia, he's hit the target on 24 occasions. This should be a good chance to get him back in the XI.

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