Croatia look to stop marauding Spaniards

After thrashing an accommodating Ireland side 4-0, holders Spain may find Croatia a tougher nut to crack when they meet in Gdansk on Monday in a game that will decide who tops Euro 2012 Group C.

A 2-2 draw would put both sides into the quarterfinals even if third-placed Italy beat Ireland and a defeat would probably mean an early flight home. Spain played sparkling football against Ireland when the recalled Fernando Torres scored twice but the world champions are wary of a dangerous Croatia side who are unlikely to stand around watching Iberian artistry.

In midfield playmaker Luka Modric, heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, and the tournament's joint top scorer with three goals Mario Mandzukic, Croatia have the quality in key areas to cause problems for Spain. "We watched the two matches they played here and they fully deserve the four points they have," Spain defender Raul Albiol said on Saturday. "Croatia have always had talented players and they are going to make it very tough for us." Only needing to avoid defeat to reach the last eight, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be toying with the decision about whether to retain Torres or revert to the strikerless line-up he put out in the 1-1 opening draw with Italy. One thing is for sure, according to Albiol, neither side will be worrying about the maths of the group or play for the 2-2 draw that would suit both. "Of course 2-2 is one of the possible results in football but what is clear is that we will we go out to win," he said.

One lucky omen for Croatia is that when they played the holders at the 1996 European Championship they effectively knocked them out with a 3-0 win over Denmark inspired by Davor Suker and his infamous chip over goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.  The dilemma Croatia, who also have four points, face is that they must go for a win because a 0-0 draw would not be enough if Italy beat Ireland. The very complicated scenario also means that a 1-1 draw might not be enough for Croatia if Italy beat Ireland by a two-goal margin other than 2-0.


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