17:00 BST, Friday 8th June, Stadion Gradski vrt (Osijek, Croatia)
Croatia will complete their World Cup warm-up schedule when they host fellow World Cup-bound Senegal on Friday night.
Both sides will be looking to improve on their last outings. The Croats fell to a fairly meek 2-0 defeat against Brazil at Anfield. As for Senegal, they eked out a goalless draw with minnows Luxembourg.
Being their last opportunity to play before the finals, Croatia are expected to field a full strength side, likely using this as a dressed rehearsal for their group stage clash with Nigeria on June 16.
Senegal, on the other hand, haven’t had the luxury of hand picking their opponents since sealing qualification in the autumn.
Lack of funding has lead to their federation cobbling together friendlies with Ukbekistan and Bosnia back in the spring, and now Luxembourg followed by Croatia.
Having not won any of these warmup matches yet, the Lions of Teranga would dearly like a confidence boosting result here ahead of their opener with Poland on June 19.
Having experimented against Brazil, coach Zlatko Dalic should be back to full strength against Senegal with that opener against Nigeria in mind.
Luka Modric is often deployed further forward for his country than for Real Madrid. They boast an enviable armoury of excellent central midfielders, with the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Milan Badelj likely to be on the bench.
The experienced Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka will be crucial in marshalling the defence with Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko stepping into Darijo Srna’s boots at right back. Ivan Strinic should make up the back four.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic will still probably be an important figure, despite not having his best season at Juventus, although he is being put under pressure for his starting spot by Andrej Kramaric.
Crystal Palace left back, Pape Souare, has sadly missed out on the squad, failing to prove his fitness after a horrendous car accident in 2016 left him with a broken thighbone and jaw. Angers’ Saliou Ciss will be the man to step into his place.
Senegal have some excellent options going forward, with Sadio Mane and Keita Balde extremely dangerous on the flanks. Coach Aliou Cisse can choose between Diafra Sakho, Mame Biram Diouf, Moussa Sow and Moussa Konate upfront.
Idrissa Gueye and Alfred N’Diaye both come into the tournament on the back of good seasons for their clubs and could provide a formidable partnership in midfield.
Key Players: Luka Modric (Croatia) vs Idrissa Gueye (Senegal)
This has the potential to be an excellent midfield battle, with both teams possessing excellent technicians in the middle of the field.
Luka Modric has been arguably the best central midfielder on the planet for a number of years now. So adept at conducting proceedings in the white of Real Madrid, and along with Ivan Rakitic provides Croatia with guile and ingenuity.
Idrissa Gueye will not be an easy opponent though. Second only to Wilfred Ndidi for tackles made in the Premier League this season with 118, and among the top interceptors in England, Gueye has proved himself to be an extremely intelligent midfielder.
Not only does he possess such an innate ability to win the ball back, his 85% passing accuracy shows that he is equally adept in keeping things ticking over.
It should be an intriguing battle between two high-quality midfielders who have had good seasons.
Which side of Croatia will we see in Russia?
Croatia have improved since Zlatko Dalic took over midway through the campaign but they still aren’t always cohesive.
In the last year, they have failed to score in defeats against Iceland, Turkey and Peru, as well as drawing at home to Finland and scraping a 1-0 win over Kosovo.
If it doesn’t click going forward, Croatia can be a turgid watch as they were in their excruciatingly poor 1-0 extra time loss to Portugal at Euro 2016.
Who will accompany Modric and Rakitic in the midfield?
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are absolute certainties to start in Croatia’s engine room but the big question has to be who will join them?
Milan Badelj and Marcelo Brozovic have both been tested there. And then there’s Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic, who could be deployed in Modric’s usual role slightly further forward.
Whoever Dalic goes with against Senegal will probably be the man to take the field in Kaliningrad against Nigeria on June 21.
Will Sadio Mane be able to inspire Senegal’s attack?
Despite having some gifted attacking players, Senegal aren’t exactly free scoring. Their recent stalemate against Luxembourg was without Liverpool superstar Sadio Mane.
Fresh from scoring in the Champions League final no less, Mane will be under pressure from his country to produce the magic that can take Senegal into the Round of 16.
In a fairly generous group, alongside Poland, Japan and Colombia, if Mane and Co. can find a way to break teams down, Senegal have a real chance of progressing.
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Senegal
It might be ambitious to expect three goals from this match, but this could be the game where both of these sides start to click in attack.
Senegal will have their talisman Mane back and should look a lot more dangerous than they did against Luxembourg.
With their quality in midfield though, it’s hard to look beyond Croatia winning this match.
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