MX23RW : Monday, June 21 19:30:14| >> :600:1508452:1508452:
Mar 24, 2021 at 7.45pm UK at Stadion Stožice
SloveniaSlovenia
1-0
CroatiaCroatia
Lovric (15')
Kurtic (61'), Mevlja (77')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Barisic (24'), Brozovic (35'), Vrsaljko (65'), Vida (68'), Budimir (76')

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

Sports Mole previews Wednesday's World Cup qualifier between Slovenia and Croatia, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Aiming to go one better than they did in the 2018 World Cup, Croatia kick off their qualification campaign for Qatar 2022 on Wednesday when they travel to Ljubljana to take on Slovenia in Group H.

The hosts are aiming to reach the finals for the first time since 2010, while Croatia's aspirations are slightly higher after a magnificent run in Russia three years ago.


Match preview

Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kek pictured on November 15, 2020© Reuters

Undefeated in 2020, Slovenia head into their opening fixture of World Cup qualification full of confidence after a near-perfect Nations League campaign, with Matjaz Kek's side winning four and drawing two on their way to top spot and promotion from League C Group 3 last year.

Their most recent match was another anti-climactic goalless stalemate with Greece, but Slovenia marched to doubles over Kosovo and Moldova with professionalism to earn a spot in League B for the next cycle, but an appearance on the world stage has eluded them since 2010 and they will be determined to right the wrongs of previous qualification campaigns this time around.

Slovenia's time in South Africa saw them finish just one point below England and the USA as they bowed out at the group stage, and their bids to make the 2014 and 2018 editions both ended in failure, so Kek's men must quickly click into gear if they are to have any chance of pipping Russia, Slovakia or Croatia to one of the top two spots in Group H.

Even though Slovenia were not exactly facing world-beating teams last year, five wins from eight across all competitions is certainly cause for optimism, and Kek's defence - marshalled by Atletico Madrid number one Jan Oblak - only conceded one goal in the whole of 2020.

Furthermore, Kek's men have only suffered defeat in one of their last 12 home matches in all competitions - although their strong form on familiar territory was not enough to see them qualify for this summer's Euros - and another strong showing on home soil against the 2018 runners-up would certainly lay down a marker for the rest of their qualifying campaign.

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

Two years on from their enthralling World Cup final, France and Croatia renewed hostilities in the UEFA Nations League, but Les Bleus once again were simply too strong for their adversaries as they marched to back-to-back victories over Zlatko Dalic's men last autumn.

Indeed, Croatia mixed with the big boys in League A Group 3 but managed to prevail in just one of their six matches in the tournament - a narrow 2-1 win over Sweden - and having lost the other five to avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth, any prospects of another shot at glory on the world stage appear incredibly slim.

However, most would have written Dalic's men off before a ball was kicked in Russia three years ago, so Croatia certainly will not be travelling to Qatar just to make up the numbers, but they must first navigate their group stage, where nothing less than first place will do if they are to be seen as genuine contenders once again.

Croatia travel to Slovenia having won just two of their 12 away matches since the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup, although they have only failed to score in one of those dozen matches on unfamiliar turf and are hardly short of goals with the likes of Andrej Kramaric, Ivan Perisic and Tottenham Hotspur's worst nightmare Mislav Orsic in the ranks.

Furthermore, the visitors have never lost to Slovenia in any of their nine meetings since 1991 - winning six and drawing three against their midweek opponents - and the last game between the two sides saw an Ivan Rakitic-inspired Croatia win 3-2 in a 2008 friendly.

Slovenia form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • D

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


Team News

Ante Rebic during a Croatia training session on October 11, 2018© Reuters

Slovenia's number one Oblak is likely to be protected by Bojan Jokic once again, as the 100-cap left-back has returned to the squad and will be his side's most experienced player for March's fixtures, so a battle for the armband could ensue between the pair.

Serie A is well-represented in Kek's midfield ranks, as Atalanta's Josip Ilicic, Parma's Jasmin Kurtic and Genoa's Miha Zajc are all included in the squad and in contention to start on Wednesday.

However, Dynamo Kiev's Benjamin Verbic will not be taking part due to injury, while Hannover's Jaka Bijol is observing a quarantine period and may not be involved despite his selection.

Rakitic has fond memories of playing against Slovenia, but the Sevilla man has now retired from international duty, while Ante Rebic, Marko Rog and Bruno Petkovic will play no part due to injuries.

In a completely farcical situation, vice-captain Domagoj Vida played 45 minutes in November's friendly against Turkey before finding out he had contracted coronavirus, but the 84-cap defender is back in the fold and ready for action this week.

With Rebic and Petkovic in the treatment room, Kramaric seems set to lead the line for the visitors, with Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric anchoring the midfield.

Slovenia possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Stojanovic, Mevlja, Blazic, Jokic; Kurtic, Zajc; Crnigoj, Ilicic, Bohar; Sporar

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Barisic; Modric, Kovacic; Brekalo, Vlasic, Perisic; Kramaric


SM words green background

We say: Slovenia 0-2 Croatia

Croatia's record against Slovenia speaks for itself, and the 2018 runners-up should have no trouble easing to victory in their inaugural match of the group, even in the absence of two key attackers. The hosts enjoyed an exceptional 2020 but will likely be brought crashing back down to earth on Wednesday, as a routine win for Croatia is the only outcome that we can envisage here.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a double chance bet on a home win or an away win 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.Home/Away:data


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