Socceroos v Croatia preview


Of course, for many Australians ‘the Croatia game’ at the 2006 World Cup is one of the sweetest memories after a 2-2 draw ensured the Socceroos’ passage to the knockout stages.

But going back to 1998, the Croatians hammered Australia 7-0 in a pre-World Cup friendly in Zagreb before a Davor Suker-inspired Croatia stunned the world by reaching the World Cup semi-finals.

That was 16 years ago to the day.

Ahead of Friday night’s clash in Salvador and while Australia have several injury concerns ahead of their clash against Chile on June 13, Croatia are preparing for the tournament opener against hosts Brazil the day prior.

Niko Kovac's side enjoyed a 2-1 win over Mali in their farewell clash in Osijek, where Ivan Perisic netted a brace.

Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric were used as second-half substitutes, but expect the midfield duo to play a bigger part against Australia.

Kovac may opt to use star Mario Mandzukic off the bench given the Bayern Munich striker is suspended for the clash against Brazil.

Croatia, who have won just one of the five matches between the teams, will be eager to click into gear ahead of their Group A opener.

Even if Mandzukic plays fewer minutes than usual, Ange Postecoglou is set to see his inexperienced defence tested again.

Right-back Ivan Franjic remains under an injury cloud, meaning Ryan McGowan may start in a position he was exposed in against Brazil last year.

Matthew Spiranovic will be a handy inclusion in the heart of defence and Alex Wilkinson may be alongside him, with Jason Davidson on the left.

Mark Bresciano (back) is almost certain to miss, leaving Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan in two of the three midfield spots.

Mathew Leckie, Tim Cahill and Tommy Oar are almost certain to be the front three.

Oar's battle with Croatia right-back Darijo Srna would be intriguing, although the Utrecht attacker did cause problems more centrally in Australia's 1-1 draw against South Africa last time out.

The midfield is where Kovac's men appear to have the upper hand, especially if Modric, Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic all start.

Mali were largely unwilling to press Croatia in Osijek, but Rakitic still managed to get Perisic in behind for the opener.

Croatia have slipped to 20th in the FIFA rankings, yet their quality is likely to give Australia an indication of what is to come against Spain, the Netherlands and Chile at the World Cup.

Kovac is wary of Cameroon and Mexico, the other teams in Group A, and will want his team close to their best in their final outing before the tournament begins.

Postecoglou has defensive questions that need answering and he may get those on Friday.

The Socceroos play Croatia on Friday night (kick off 9am AEST time Saturday morning live on Fox Sports) ahead of their tournament opener against Chile on June 13.

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