Croatia disappointed many with their tournament-opening scoreless draw against Morocco. Their play was not up to the standard they set during their 2018 run to the World Cup final, and you wouldn’t be alone if you said that they deserved even less than the point they claimed from that match. Conversely, kicking off just their second-ever World Cup appearance, the Canadian team impressed millions of worldwide viewers despite losing 1-0 in a close contest to Belgium. They created tons of chances and defended well, while equally poor finishing and officiating cost them a valuable point, or even more. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this match that could go a long way towards determining qualification out of Group E, especially if there is a winner.
Croatia Vs. Canada Odds
Croatia are decent-sized favorites in this one, listed at +110 to win compared to Canada’s +270, and +240 for the draw. The goalscoring total is set at a standard 2.5, with the under being a small favorite at -135.
Croatia Vs. Canada Prediction & Pick
There were high expectations for Croatia coming into this tournament after they were the runners-up four years ago, but I haven’t really been sold on them as I’ve done my pre-tournament research, due in large part to their lack of attacking options. That opinion of mine was somewhat validated after they possessed the ball for 65% of their matchup with Morocco, but turned that into .52 expected goals, only one big chance, and of course zero goals. The team’s biggest question before the tournament is still the biggest question as they prepare for game 2- even when they dominate the ball, who will score goals?
The same question essentially can be asked of a Canada team that looked positively menacing for most of their losing effort against Belgium. It’s a bit of a different issue though; rather than outright lack of positive attacking play, the issue can pretty much be boiled down to one of being decisive and finishing moves. In their tournament debut, the young Canadian side accrued 2.63 xG, and 3 big chances, including an early penalty won- and the argument can be made that they deserved at least one or even two more. They shot the ball 22 times…but only put 3 on target. Belgium is obviously a higher-caliber opponent than Croatia or Morocco, so Canada should still feel fine about their chances to advance, given their performance. Still, it must be said that they are the only team in this group without a point, and that regardless of the opponent, shots off-target, or ones smashed into a defender’s shins, will not turn into goals.
The moneyline in this one is pretty tough. After both teams possessed the ball pretty well but failed to create goals, it would be tempting to pick the draw and the under; I’m only going to do half of that. While I don’t think it’s likely that the complete finishing ineptitude persists forever for both sides, I also don’t think they’ll both magically figure it out at the same time. I think Canada’s issue of finishing is less concerning than Croatia’s of not even putting themselves in position to score, so I’m going to take Canada on the moneyline- the double result, or the draw no bet would be good value if you have access to either- and u2.5 goals scored, although neither is my favorite bet of the tournament. These are two very evenly matched opponents, and the game could go any way- it’ll be a really exciting one to watch, and it’s conveniently placed at 11am Eastern on Sunday.
Canada Forwards vs. Croatia Back Line
Canada’s attacking performance against Belgium reminded me of a math exam where you do all of the work properly, except for the last step and the final answer is wrong. The twist? It’s a multiple-choice assessment, so you get no credit for your work, just a zero for getting the answer wrong. Such was the case for Canada’s forward group in their opener, as they aced the so-called eye test, making solid passes and dazzling runs, but didn’t get the ball in the back of the net once all night. Davies’s penalty looms large, and surely that chance, or at least the rebound, should have been buried, but the fact remains that the actual attacking players also spent basically their whole day in the 18-yard box without scoring from open play.
Brugge’s Tajon Buchanan looked awesome, pulling off a number of great skill moves and showing some solid athleticism, but he wasn’t able to finish or pass the way a great winger needs to; perhaps he’ll be able to do so against a less-intimidating opponent. In my opinion, one of Canada’s biggest issues was that they didn’t do a good enough job of using Lille star Jonathan David as a focal point of their attack, they needed to make the final pass to their striker far more often than they did. David should be the team’s attacking star, but he seemed invisible at times; he needs to be more decisive on and off the ball, and his teammates have to do a better job of getting him involved
For Croatia, the back line was solid in their opener, but not heavily tested by a Morocco team that only held 35% of possession, and never had a corner or big chance. The center-backs are surely the heart of this group; veteran Dejan Lovren, one of the key players from the 2018 runners-up is joined by talented up-and-comer Josko Gvardiol, a 20 year old from RB Leipzig who can play fullback as well. The fullbacks were also solid, but will likely be tested by Canada’s quicker attack more than they were against a relatively lethargic side, although the Moroccan fullbacks did snap off three shots between the two of them, a couple of which looked pretty menacing. The duo of Celtic’s Josep Juranovic and VfB Stuttgart man Borna Sosa will need to be sharp to limit the sometimes sloppy but immensely promising Canadian forwards on matchday 2.
Canada Midfield vs. Croatia Midfield
Led by Ballon D’Or winner and Real Madrid legend Luka Modric, the midfield was unquestionably the heart of the Croatia team that surged to the 2018 World Cup final. Modric is essentially ageless; his game has never been built around raw athleticism, so he’s just about as effective now at age 37 as he’s ever been. He was fine against Morocco, but his attempted progressive passes and long balls were not as accurate as usual, he just wasn’t able to help Croatia find the big plays they’ll always need him to create. This was the story for much of the midfield, as the group was good enough to hold essentially ⅔ of possession, but never really created any menacing scoring opportunities. Modric is joined in central midfield by Marcelo Brozovic, another seasoned veteran (although closer to his prime than Luka is to his) who represents Italian giants Inter Milan during club play. Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic is generally a bit more of a versatile player, but essentially settled into a midfield role similar to those of Brozovic and Modric; all three experienced roughly the same positives and suffered the same shortcomings in their performances against Morocco. If Croatia’s highly experienced midfield can continue to constantly possess the ball against a less veteran group, they’ll be well on their way to at least another draw, if not all three points this time.
Conversely, if Croatia aren’t able to dominate possession, they don’t really have the personnel to create quick-strike counter-attacking opportunities, so a stronger than expected performance from Canada’s midfield could go an incredibly long way towards securing a point or more for Les Rouges. Unfortunately, I’d be lying if I told you that Canada’s midfield was the strongest part of their squad, although they did have some bright moments against Belgium. Stephen Eustaquio of Porto looked particularly lively; he did a good job grabbing possession, progressing the ball with clever passes, falling back on defense, and even snapping off a few shots against Belgium, although none were particularly close to getting in. Besiktas veteran Atiba Hutchinson also put in a solid shift for his nation, even if relatively unspectacular; he passed relatively well, although he wasn’t too much of a presence in either final-third attacking or in defense. I wouldn’t be stunned to see manager John Herdman change the shape of his team, and slot another midfielder into the formation and give those two some support; Ismaël Koné of MLS’s CF Montreal could be in the mix, as he put in almost 40 minutes of decent play against Belgium. Belgium overall are a tougher side than Croatia, but the midfield battle will be no easier for Canada in this one; they’ll have to be at their very best to give their forwards enough of the ball to have a chance in this match.