The stage for Round-0f 16 is all set. The remaining 16 teams are still in the hunt for bringing the prestigious silverware to their country. Croatia earned the ticket for the knockouts after a statement 3-1 victory against a depleted Scottish side. With just one point in 2 games, Croatia’s silverware dreams would have been left incomplete without a victory.
Whereas their rivals, Luis Enrique’s Spanish army entered the knockouts with a twinkling win against Slovakia. A 5-0 demolition in Sevilla saw the three-time champions march into the knockouts.
And before the two outfits kick-off, FootTheBall digs deep to find out what’s the best eleven of La Furia Roja and Vatreni.
GOALKEEPER – UNAI SIMON
Spain’s major conundrum before the start of the summer carnival of Euros was who will be their shot-stopper? David De Gea’s season was shrouded with uncertainty while Kepa Arizabalega rarely featured on Chelsea’s team sheet. But to solve Luis Enrique’s problems, up stepped Atletico Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon. An exceptional shot stopper, Simon had a dominant display in La Furia Roja’s 5-0 demolition of Slovakia.
Spain’s goalless stalemate at Sweden produced an Unai Simon masterclass, proving his worth to the footballing world. When Luis Enrique’s men lock horns with Croatia, he would expect Simon to replicate his earlier performances if they would want to stop a spirited Croatian side.
RIGHT-BACK – CESAR AZPILICUETA
Chelsea’s Champions League-winning captain, Cesar Azpilicueta perfectly solved Spain’s defensive puzzle. Adding his years of experience to a young Spanish backline, Azpilicueta dropped an exceptional performance against Slovakia after missing the first two matches. Marco Llorente’s attendance in Enrique’s blueprint saw Azpilicueta turn into a benchwarmer.
— César Azpilicueta (@CesarAzpi) June 23, 2021
But when the opportunity arrived, Cesar Azpilicueta impressed the world with a jaw-dropping performance. A solid defensive display, the Chelsea defender played beautiful crosses into the box. When the Croatian challenge arrives, Azpilicueta’s experience could be crucial for Spain’s chances.
CENTRE- BACK – DEJAN LOVREN
Dejan Lovren is the glue that attaches Croatia’s defensive line. An intelligent defender, Lovren’s skills can never be questioned. With a Premier League trophy and a Champions League Medal embellished in his player CV, Lovren’s one of the most underrated centre-backs in Europe. A mammoth for Zlatko Dalić, Lovren was influential in restoring the World Cup runners-up’s pride in the last match of the group stage.
Between 90min there is nothing to say, everyone is giving their best for his team.
Anyway, after that we are just old friends and it was nice to see this man again.
Your team and your country should be proud, no matter what. Brilliant atmosphere! well done🏴👏🏻 @andrewrobertso5 pic.twitter.com/QDdsXZYNgK
— Dejan Lovren (@Dejan06Lovren) June 23, 2021
When the Spanish poacher duo of Morata and Moreno will haunt Croatia’s goal, Lovren could prove to be the saving grace. Lovren’s vulnerability has reduced with due course of time and the experienced jewel of Croatia could relieve some pressure from Modric’s shoulder.
CENTRE-BACK – AYMERIC LAPORTE
The recent Spanish convert Manchester City defender, Aymeric Laporte was the talk of the town before the Euros kicked off. Ditching the world champions to join Luis Enrique’s Spanish army Laporte’s decision was considered a sagacious choice. Rarely finding his name on the team sheet at France, the Spanish defender marched into the starting eleven at Spain.
Although a questionable move, Laporte’s addition to the roster has been quintessential. An outstanding goal against Slovakia and clean-sheets against Sweden and Slovakia earned Laporte tremendous praise from the pundits. Rebic and Perisic would constantly spook Simon’s net but Laporte’s presence could hinder Croatia’s dreams.
LEFT-BACK – JORDI ALBA
Barcelona’s defensive fulcrum, Jordi Alba has been serving the Spanish team for years now. The captain of the squad after Busquets’ covid-19 absence, Alba had been carrying the backline perfectly. A lacklustre Spanish side has failed to capitalise on their chances but Alba ensured that they don’t concede unnecessary goals. A stalemate against Sweden might seem a disappointing result but a defensive masterclass by the Barcelona man saved Enrique’s men from an embarrassing evening. Against Poland once again Alba proved influential, keeping the Polish strikers quiet throughout the evening.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD- SERGIO BUSQUETS
Sergio Busquets’ absence in the Spanish midfield hampered their performances in the first two games. A boring Spanish squad lacked the creativity going forward and looked short on ideas. Busquets had been finding form with Barcelona in the latter stages of the season but a covid-19 crisis hindered his participation in the Euros.
But his return marked a man of the match performance against Slovakia. Wrong-footing the Slovakian defenders, Busquets was ruling the pitch with his ideal passing display. Constantly creating world-class chances for Morat and Moreno to pounce on. Against Croatia, Busquets will lock horns with his old enemy Luka Modric. The Croatian captain is also a pivotal arsenal of Los Blancos. And when the two captains face off the fireworks will surely light up the stadium.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD- LUKA MODRIC
A thunderous finish from the outside of Luka Modric’s boots solidified Croatia’s spot in the knockouts. After two shambolic results against England and the Czech Republic, the Blazers needed three points against the Scotts. An inspirational display from the captain to give Croatia a much-awaited lead in second half demolished Scotland’s hopes.
Modric’s calmness when the world is on fire makes him one of the world’s best. Once again when Spain locked horns with Croatia, a jaw-dropping performance could be on the cards. The country will back the 2018 World Cup Golden Ball winner to mirror his heroics and guide Croatia’s golden generation to silverware.
CENTRAL- MIDFIELD – MARCELO BROZOVIC
Brozovic is a tremendously gifted midfielder who can contribute in both playmaking and smashing rockets for his outfit. He’s a dynamic player with great awareness and ball control, along with being a great striker of the ball. An additional plus for the Croatian veteran is that he is a flexible playmaker who can enjoy any position without a struggle.
Given the obstacles he has successfully faced in his distinguished tenure, Brozovic’s flexibility becomes his great strength. Against Spain, Brozovic’s defensive abilities will be tested but his attacking skills could be the hidden gem. The Italian Champion had 2 goals and 6 assists to his name while proving influential in big games. Once again the encounter against Spain could earn Brozovic the title of Croatian legend.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD- PEDRI
It’s inspiring to see Pedri’s boldness and persistent willingness to ignite creativity and identify space from pure blankness. At such a tender age, Pedri has excellent anticipation and understanding of his players’ dashes and moves and while also knowing what a perfect pass looks like. Pedri is unconcerned about the pass’s complexity, if he spots an opening he won’t shy away from seizing it.
— Pedri González (@Pedri) June 23, 2021
He brings the symmetry and imaginative dimension that has been so vital for Barcelona throughout the season. A midfield prodigy, Pedri has surely been this season’s headline maker. Contributing to almost three of Spain’s five goals against Slovakia, Pedri’s the heart of Luis Enrique’s midfield.
STRIKER- GERARD MORENO
Spain’s stalemate at Sweden opened the gates for Gerard Moreno in Luis Enrique’s team sheet. Villareal’s deadly striker, Moreno smacked goals for fun in a glittering La Liga campaign. With a Europa League medal hanging in his home, Moreno came to the Euros with a reputation. The striker enjoyed freedom against Poland and was influential in the first half.
A mouth-watering assist to Morata, Moreno and Spain stared in the eyes of triumph. Although a poor second-half display scrapped the Spanish dreams. But when the Croatian challenge arrives, Moreno’s electrifying pace, thunderous strikes, and exquisite passing abilities could shatter their fairytale. With the Yellow Submarine forward hungry for goals, it could turn out to be a long 90 minutes for the Checkered outfit.
STRIKER – IVAN PERISIC
A surprise element of Euro 2020, Perisic has taken the European carnival by storm. With 2 goals in 3 matches, Perisic is outperforming several legends in the goal-scoring tally. A traditional winger, Perisic loves to deliver uncountable crosses into the box for Rebic to pounce on.
Robert Lewandowski’s magnificent header against Spain showcased their vulnerability on set-pieces, something Perisic could exploit. The star-studded player has functioned for some huge names across Europe, recently lifting the Serie-A with Inter. With experience being crucial against Spain, he could provide the hint of seniority required in the squad.