On Thursday evening at Wembley, England will be going through the motions against the USA in Wayne Rooney’s ‘testimonial’, but something of far more significance will be taking place just over 1,000 miles away in Zagreb.
As the group stages of the inaugural UEFA Nations League near their conclusion, crunch time has almost arrived and in division A4 – which grouped England with Spain and Croatia – all three teams still can qualify for next summer’s finals.
The group appeared to be in the tight grip of the Spanish until, in the last international break, England shocked everyone by sensationally beating them 3-2 in Seville.
But, as things stand, if Spain win in Zagreb they will qualify for next summer’s finals. Croatia have the toughest task and need to beat Spain and then England at Wembley on Sunday in order to top the group. For their part, England need to rely on Croatia not denying Spain the win, and then must beat the Croatians at Wembley.
TOP TIP! – Over 3.5 Goals in the game – +300 / Iago Aspas as anytime goalscorer – +200
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In their first meeting – in Elche back in early September – the Spanish thrashed the World Cup finalists 6-0 but it goes without saying this one will be much tighter. Back then the Croatians were still coming down from the high of their fantastic World Cup and were nursing a Russian hangover.
Interestingly, their success in Russia has changed the landscape for the Croatians, and where once they revelled in the role of underdog, now the bar has been raised and expectations have risen. But their situation hasn’t been helped by the retirement from international football of veteran striker Mario Mandzukic.
So, while Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic has no fresh injury problems ahead of the Spain game, he is still trying to find a way of filling the Mandzukic-shaped void. Without that threat in the attacking third, the midfield impact of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić is somewhat diluted.
Spain also have no major injury worries in a squad that includes the re-selected Jordi Alba, so Zagreb should brace itself for a clash of two of the current European heavyweights.
The two countries have only met seven times before and, unsurprisingly, it’s the Spanish who lead the way with four wins, the Croatians winning twice.
Given the need for a Croatian win, we expect goals in this game. The Spanish attacking threat is, of course, well known – even in the 3-2 defeat against England they looked a constant threat – and with the home side almost certain to be on the front foot, Spain will be prepared to counter. They can do this with devastating effect.
So, we expect there to be goals on both sides – the Spanish will be nervous defensively after England hit three past them – and so the +300 on offer from Bet365 for over 3.5 goals looks well worthy of consideration. We also expect the Spanish to edge it, maybe 3-1 if we’re pushed, but we’re more confident that Iago Aspas will get on the scoresheet +200 with 188Bet.
TOP TIP! – Greece to win 1-0 – +425 / Teemu Pukki as anytime goalscorer – +300
The Flying Finns have already secured top spot in Group C2 and so will see their game in Athens as a ‘free hit’, having won all four of their games so far. The Greeks however still technically have a chance of dropping into the relegation spots and so will be keen to secure their place in the C division and not let it go to the final game.
As a result, we can see the Greeks narrowly edging this one in a low-scorer – all games in the group have been low-scoring – with the 1-0 on offer from 888sport at +425 looking decent value. But, for Finland we can see Teemu Pukki getting a goal – the +300 with 188bet for anytime goalscorer well worthy of a second look.
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