Euro 2016 Group D: Croatia can come through Czech clash and confirm last 16 spot
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | June 14, 2016
Czech Republic v Croatia
- Euro 2016 Group D
- Friday, June 17th
- Kick-off: 17:00 BST
- Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, St-Etienne
- Live on BBC One
Blazers bearing down on Czechs
Croatia are unbeaten (W7, D1) in their eight internationals under current coach Ante Cacic, while second Euro 2016 Group D opponents the Czech Republic have lost half as many of their previous matches (P8, L4 D2 W2).
Coral cut the Blazers from 22/1 chances to 16/1 outright tournament chances following an impressive, yet narrow victory over Turkey, and also make them odds-on 4/5 match favourites to win their clash with the Czechs.
Pavel Vrba’s boys held out against Euro holders Spain until the 87th minute, when La Roja finally battered their door down through a Gerard Pique set-piece header. The Czech Republic, who had virtually no out-ball in that battle, are 15/4 outsiders to upset Croatia, with a draw priced at 5/2.
Newer nations don’t have much history
Of all the former Yugoslavian sides, the Blazers tend to be the most consistent when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments. Czech dissolution of their union with Slovakia around the same time as Croatian independence turned out to be far more peaceful, but these sides have thus only met twice as independent countries.
Unbeaten in both those encounters, Cacic’s crew under notable predecessor and ITV pundit Slaven Bilic ran out 4-2 when last clashing with the Czech Republic in 2011. Fiorentina frontman Nikola Kalinic helped himself to a brace then.
Because they have kept six clean sheets in their recent unbeaten run, however, a win to nil appeals for the Blazers at nifty 19/10 odds.
Just fresh off being given a lesson in ball retention by Spain, it doesn’t get any easier for the Czechs because they now line up against another pair of pass-masters in spectacular scorer Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona).
Having netted in stunning fashion to thwart Turkey last time out, you wouldn’t bet against more Modric magic here, and the former Spurs playmaker is a 7/2 chance to net once more anytime.
Engine room partner in crime Rakitic, meanwhile, is shorter but tastier at 10/3 in the same market, while proven performance against this opposition Kalinic is a 13/2 chance to score last because he remains behind Mario Mandzukic (6/4 anytime favourite) in the pecking order.
Czechs could change supporting cast
One surprise omission from the Czech starting XI against Spain was the absence of their leading marksman in qualifying, Borek Dockal. Theodor Gebre Solassie was a conservative selection out wide to try and stop Jordi Alba, and Vrba cannot afford to be so cautious again.
Dockal did the business on the road to the France finals with four from the right flank, and it’d be a shock to see him not restored by the Czech Republic. Odds of 7/2 say he can come in and make the difference by scoring anytime.
Czech captain Tomas Rosicky may have been released by Arsenal, but remains a regular when fit for his country despite advancing years. He netted in the 4-2 loss alluded to above, and is an 11/2 chance to do so again here.
You’ll find comprehensive coverage of Euro 2016 on our dedicated section.
Coral’s top tip: This Czech Republic side is a shadow of its former self, and so it is to Croatia’s cunning midfield that looks to be where the match will be won and lost. Back the Blazers for a win to nil at 19/10.