MX23RW : Saturday, July 31 23:22:56| >> :600:1865162:1865162:
Mar 30, 2021 at 7.45pm UK at Stadion HNK Rijeka
CroatiaCroatia
3-0
MaltaMalta
Perisic (62'), Modric (76' pen.), Brekalo (90')
Vida (81'), Vlasic (90+2')
FT(HT: 0-0)

Preview: Croatia vs. Malta - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's World Cup Qualifying clash between Croatia and Malta, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Two teams who enjoyed positive results on matchday two in World Cup Qualifying Group H prepare to face off at Stadion Rujevica on Tuesday as Croatia play host to Malta.

The hosts overcame Cyprus 1-0 to kickstart their road to Qatar last time out, while Malta managed to hold Slovakia to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.


Match preview

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic pictured on November 11, 2020© Reuters

A lowly 1-0 defeat to Slovenia was the worst possible opening to qualification for the 2018 World Cup runners-up, but Croatia managed to right the wrongs of midweek by prevailing against Cyprus by the same scoreline at the weekend.

Atalanta's Mario Pasalic was welcomed back to the starting lineup with open arms and struck the only goal of the game in the 40th minute, with that result ending a barren run of five games without a win for Zlatko Dalic's men after three successive defeats to Sweden, Portugal and most recently Slovenia.

With Russia being the only team able to boast a perfect record from their two qualification matches so far, Slovenia and Croatia are neck-and-neck in second and third respectively - with the former ahead on head-to-head points - and the battle to secure a top-two finish is expected to right down to the wire should Slovakia start firing on all cylinders soon.

Speaking of firing on all cylinders, Croatia will be aiming to find the back of the net for the 13th game in a row at home this week, and they have notched up at least two strikes in nine of their previous 12 on familiar territory, but Dalic has been dealt yet another injury blow to one of his strikers ahead of this match.

Already without Bruno Petkovic and Ante Rebic, Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric has sustained an ankle problem to further limit Dalic's options up top, although the hosts should still be confident of keeping their scoring streak at home going against Malta's leaky defence.

Malta's Alexander Satariano celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on March 27, 2021© Reuters

For a side ranked 176th in the world, Malta took no notice of the numbers against 34th-ranked Slovakia, who quickly found themselves 2-0 down at the break on their own patch following Luke Gambin and Alexander Satariano's first goals for their country.

Only a third ever victory in 102 attempts during World Cup Qualifying appeared to be on the cards for Malta, but Slovakia were extremely quick to restore parity through David Strelec and Milan Skriniar before the hour mark, although the hosts ultimately did not make their dominance count as Malta claimed an impressive away point.

Out of their 102 World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Malta have lost 90 of them, so managing to hold Slovakia to a stalemate is a huge success for Devis Mangia, whose team had simply been brushed aside by Russia on the opening matchday in Group H.

Incredibly, this week's visitors have now lost just one of their last nine games in all competitions - although the calibre of their Nations League opponents in Andorra, Latvia and the Faroe Islands must be taken into account - but Mangia has nonetheless created a positive atmosphere within the camp as they look to pull off an improbable win against Dalic's Croatia.

However, Malta have tried and failed eight times to get the better of Croatia since 1998 - with the Chequered Ones coming out on top seven times - and Ivan Perisic's strike was enough for Croatia to win 1-0 in the most recent meeting during qualification for Euro 2016.

Croatia World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • L
  • W

Croatia form (all competitions):
  • L
  • D
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • W

Malta World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • L
  • D

Malta form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • L
  • D


Team News

Croatia and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric pictured in training for his national side on November 16, 2020© Reuters

As mentioned, Kramaric's ankle injury has ruled him out of this game, so Ante Budimir should be handed another chance up top unless Perisic is shifted to a central role.

Luka Modric became his country's all-time most capped player after turning out for the 135th time in Croatian colours against Cyprus, but his 35-year-old legs may not be ready for a third start in the space of a week, so Mateo Kovacic could return here.

Nikola Vlasic and Domagoj Vida are also candidates to return to the first XI this week, while Dinamo Zagreb's Europa League hero Mislav Orsic has appeared twice off the bench now and will also hope to be given a chance to impress from the off.

In contrast, Malta boss Mangia has very few concerns up top and is blessed with an array of attacking options, although Satariano is in no position to relinquish his spot despite pressure from Luke Montebello, who has now gone nine games without opening his account for the national team.

It would be harsh for Mangia to drop any member of the XI from their draw with Slovakia, but tired legs could force his hand, meaning that Kyrian Nwoko will hope to earn a recall to the starting lineup.

Midfield lynchpin Matthew Guillaumier has played 180 minutes in the space of three days and could therefore be one player that Mangia opts to rest, with Bjorn Kristensen capable of filling the void in the engine room.

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Vida, Caleta-Car, Barisic; Kovacic, Brozovic; Vlasic, Pasalic, Orsic; Budimir

Malta possible starting lineup:
Bonello, Agius, Shaw, Borg; J. Mbong, Kristensen, Teuma, Camenzuli; Nwoko, Gambin; Satariano


SM words green background

We say: Croatia 2-0 Malta

Malta's goal-laden games make for good viewing for the neutrals, but Croatia will be quick to quell any threat from Mangia's men here as they seek to improve their own clinical nature in front of goal. The 142 places between Slovakia and Malta in the world rankings had no effect on the visitors at the weekend, but we do not expect lightning to strike twice here and are backing Croatia to get the job done with minimal trouble.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting that at least one team will not score (BTTS - no) in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.BTTS No:data


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Sunday's key events


GOLF
· The men's golf reaches its conclusion, with plenty of players still in medal contention. Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama is one shot off Xander Schauffele's lead, while Great Britain's Paul Casey is another shot further back and Tommy Fleetwood is also in the mix (11.30pm-8am)

CYCLING - BMX
· Great Britain have already made history in the BMX events in Tokyo, something Charlotte Worthington and Declan Brooks will be looking to add to in the women's (2.10am) and men's (3.10am) freestyle finals

SWIMMING
· The final day of swimming action begins with the men's 50m freestyle final. Ben Proud could add to a medal-laden Games in the pool for Team GB so far, although he is up against USA's Caeleb Dressel, who is going for his fourth gold in Tokyo (2.30am)
· From sprint to endurance, Great Britain's second medal hope of the day comes through Daniel Jervis in the men's 1500m freestyle final (2.44am)
· Team GB will again be among the heavy favourites for gold in the last swimming event of the Games - the men's 4x100m medley relay final - having won the mixed event in a world record time on Saturday (3.36am)

BOXING
· Already guaranteed at least a bronze, Pat McCormack takes part in the men's welterweight semi-final against Ireland's Aidan Walsh with a spot in the gold medal final at stake (4.03am)
· Ben Whittaker is also in the semi-finals of the men's light heavyweight and will be looking to continue Team GB's success in the ring (4.51am)

TENNIS
· There will be a surprise on the top of the men's tennis podium after Novak Djokovic missed out on a medal altogether. Alexander Zverev takes on Karen Khachanov in the second match on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park (7am-2pm)

SAILING
· Alison Young will be going for gold in the women's laser radial medal race (7.33am)

ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS
· Team GB's Max Whitlock will look to defend his 2016 Olympic title in the men's pommel horse final (10.41am)

ATHLETICS
· The men's high jump final includes GB's Tom Gale, although his chances of a medal look bleak (11.10am)
· So often the blue-riband event of the Olympics, the men's 100m final takes place as the world's fastest bid to be crowned Usain Bolt's successor. Three Brits have made it into the semi-finals (11.15am-11.32am), and the final looks wide open after an underwhelming display by favourite Trayvon Bromell on Saturday (1.50pm)

HOCKEY
· Great Britain face India in the men's quarter-final (1pm)

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