Euro 2024

Spain v Croatia: In-form Pedri to help La Roja to ideal start

Spain fans wave their flags in support
Group B favourites Spain face a tough task in their opener

Ahead of the opening game in what promises to be a hotly contested Group B, Jamie Kemp is backing Spain to prevail in a tough clash against Croatia and get their EURO 2024 off to a solid start...

Spain v Croatia
Saturday 15 June, 17:00
Live on ITV 1

Heavyweight clash initiates Group B

Of the 12 fixtures taking place on MD1 of EURO 2024, Spain v Croatia is the only match-up which pits together two teams currently within the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings. Indeed, this is a meeting that seems more apt for a knockout stage clash than a tournament opener in Group B.

While Spain's pedigree at international level and the quality of their squad is in no doubt, Croatia have been tremendously competitive in recent years under Zlatko Dalic - and especially when major tournaments come around. A victory here for either side wouldn't mean just a steady start to their EURO 2024 campaign, but rather a statement of intent.

Croatia may be underdogs in this fixture 3/14.00, but they've only lost two of their last 15 internationals (W10 D3); both of which came by a one-goal margin. In fact, their only defeat by more than one goal across their last 27 games came in the 2022 World Cup semi-final (3-0), when they had the misfortune of facing an inspired Lionel Messi.

For Spain, the task will be clear. Croatia will try to retain the ball whenever they can, but the pattern of the game should eventually see the attacking initiative in Spain's hands, with the onus on them to break the opponent down. And as we've seen throughout the De la Fuente era - including in their two warm-up games - this team has plenty of resources when it comes to that exercise.

Overall, I think Spain have got a good attacking flow going leading into the tournament, and their inevitable grip on possession will give them the chances to establish a lead - even if it's a narrow one. Croatia rarely go quietly under Dalic and I expect the scoreline to be tight, but La Roja should have what's required to start well.

Improving Pedri can influence from advanced role

It's not been an easy season for Pedri - at least not by the standards many expect from him. Injuries have been the biggest factor in his lack of continuity, which is the most frustrating aspect for everyone. However, while his longer-term prospects remain in question, things are looking brighter ahead of EURO 2024 specifically.

The 21-year-old finally looks to have hit a moment where his health, match preparation, and form are all in a good place, and Spain boss Luis de la Fuente has been instrumental in helping restore his confidence too. Pedri will be important in the national team, as long as he's in charge.

Most crucially, de la Fuente has carved out a specific role for the youngster where they hope to extract the most of his quality in the final third. That isn't always the case at club level with Barcelona, where he's tended to split time playing deeper and in more controlling fashion.

"We want him to play closer to the box, between the lines, take advantage of the last pass," the Spain boss said last week. We believe that we can get a lot out of him."

Pedri had five shots across the two warm-up games, including netting the first brace of his international career against Northern Ireland last time out. Indeed, between club and country since signing for Barcelona, the only two occasions he's scored multiple times in a game have come in the last month.

With a crucial role to be played in the final third, along with having seen the ball ripple the net twice in their final preparation game, expect a Pedri who's overjoyed to simply be back on the pitch to be as involved as possible here.

The native of Tenerife isn't a natural goalscorer, but he should be active - and hopefully inspired - in looking to build Spain's advantage on the scoreboard.

Along with Pedri's interior threat, I'll also go with the outside threat Nico Williams to be fouled 2+ times here. The Basque winger has been a nightmare match-up all season for his club, and has averaged 5.6 dribbles per 90 when starting for Spain.

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