After back-to-back defeats during the October international break, Croatia will look to return to winning ways on Saturday evening as they make the trip to face Latvia in a Euro 2024 qualifier.
Matchday 9 of the UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifiers will see Latvia play host to Croatia at Stadions Skonto in Riga on Saturday evening.
The hosts can no longer qualify for next year’s tournament in Germany and are only playing for pride at the moment. They sit rock bottom in the table, having picked up just two points from seven matches in Group D.
They only picked up the first points of their qualifying campaign last month, when goals from Janis Ikaunieks and Daniels Balodis steered them to a 2-0 victory over Armenia. However, the normal service resumed soon after, as they suffered a 4-0 away loss against Turkey in their previous outing.
Croatia, meanwhile, are in the midst of a battle for the second qualification spot. After a surprise 2-1 loss to Wales in Cardiff, the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists find themselves third in Group D, behind on the head-to-head record, needing to win both games and for the Welsh to slip up in order to automatically qualify for next summer’s Euro 2024 finals in Germany.
Luckily for them, they have a favourable first fixture in their attempts to reach the sectional top two, facing an inferior Latvian side. The Vatreni will have another chance to qualify even if they fail to crack the top two in this competition. They won their group at the UEFA Nations League, which earned them a playoff spot.
The reverse fixture in September ended in an emphatic 5-0 win for the visitors. And ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
While Latvia will welcome Marcis Oss back from suspension after being sent off against Armenia in October, Eduards Emsis must now serve a ban after picking up another booking against Turkey last time out.
Left-back Raivis Jurkovskis is out injured here for Latvia, while Pavels Steinbors has had to withdraw from the squad due to an injury. Igors Tarasovs has called quits on his professional football career, making this the first squad without him in a long time.
However, the biggest concern for the hosts’ is the fact that South Korea-based striker Vladislavs Gutkovskis is out injured with a long-term knee injury here as well; he has 11 goals in 43 games for his country.
In his absence, Cambuur’s Roberts Uldrikis is in line to start up front and will be supported by wing-men Kristers Tobers and Eduards Daskevics in attack. At the back, goalkeeper Robert Ozols could be a busy man in between the sticks given the strength of the Croatian attack.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ozols; Savalnieks, Balodis, Dubra, Sorokins; Tobers, Savaljevs; Jaunzems, Janis Ikaunieks, Daskevics; Uldrikis
Croatia are dealing with quite a few injuries, as Bruno Petkovic, Nikola Vlasic, and Mateo Kovacic have all withdrawn from the squad. Dejan Lovren will also be unavailable after his recent retirement from international football. Dario Melnjak is also out here, as are Ivan Perisic and Mislav Orsic.
Forward Petar Musa has been dropped after failing to make an impact last month. But first-choice striker Andrej Kramaric and Luka Ivanusec both return to the Croatia squad this week and could start in the front three from the get-go here alongside Atalanta’s Mario Pasalic.
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Despite October’s results, head coach Zlatko Dalic could persist with his preferred four-man defence, with Manchester City star Josko Gvardiol set to feature at left-back. Domagoj Vida could partner Josip Sutalo in central defence, with Josip Stanisic manning the right flank.
Captain Luka Modric’s superb passing and vision have always been invaluable attacking tools for this Croatian team to play creatively and control tempo over the years. However, the veteran will have to play a slightly reserved role alongside Marcelo Brozovic in the engine room and allow Lovro Majer to go on marauding energetic runs.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Livakovic; Stanisic, Sutalo, Vida, Gvardiol; Modric, Brozovic, Majer; Pasalic, Kramaric, Ivanusec
- The two teams have met five times in all competitions, with three meetings taking place in the European Championship qualifiers. The visitors have largely dominated, with a 100% record at the moment.
- Latvia have recorded just one win in their last nine games in all competitions, suffering defeats in the remaining eight games in that period.
- The hosts have conceded 17 goals in the qualifiers thus far, 13 more than the visitors.
- Croatia have kept five clean sheets in their last seven away matches.
Player to Watch
Although he has flattered to deceive with his potential to be a prolific scorer for this resilient Croatian outfit throughout his career with just 26 goals from 87 caps, veteran centre-forward Andrej Kramaric could be worth keeping an eye on here, having looked sharp for Hoffenheim since the turn of the year.
The 32-year-old played a major role in keeping Hoffenheim in Germany’s top flight during a riveting season run-in last time out, scoring eight goals in 12 appearances and setting up another one. He has carried over that form into the current season, with six goals from nine outings across all competitions at club level.
Latvia 0-2 Croatia
Croatia should record another solid victory over Latvia on Saturday night, albeit by a slightly lower margin than the previous meeting between the two. Injuries to key players have severely limited Zlatko Dalic’s offensive options, so his team may have to settle for only two goals this time in Riga.