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Predicting the XI: Ex Arsenal gun to fill Croatian gap v Brazil

| 12.06.2014

Croatia’s opening World Cup assignment already looks like one of those university head-scratchers you sit down to having neglected to take any notes in the lecture beforehand.

Not only must they face a formidable-looking Brazil unit, playing in front of their home fans in the biggest football tournament on the planet, but they must do so without their most potent attacker Mario Mandzukic.

All of those factors go a long way to explaining the nation’s 11/1 price to win the tournament’s curtain raiser in Sao Paulo.

Somehow, the Vatreni must find a way to cause an upset and we’ve had a go at predicting the 11 men Niko Kovac will task with achieving it:


35-year-old Stipe Pletikosa will hold off AS Monaco stopper Danijel Subasic’s challenge for the number one jersey, with the former Spurs man’s reliability preferred in the Croatian net.

Three of the back four positions are indelibly inked onto the teamsheet. Darijo Srna, the skipper, will play at right-back with Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren forming the central-defensive partnership inside him.

Left-back is slightly more problematic, with regular incumbent Ivan Strinic a World Cup absentee through injury and deputy Danijel Pranjic also picking up a knock. 22-year-old Sime Vrsaljko will therefore start.

Kovac’s reluctance to use a holder makes central midfield the most exciting aspect of the side. La Liga-based duo Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will play in creative tandem from deep, with bright Inter man Mateo Kovacic adding a third string to the artistic bow in a 4-3-3, reminiscent of the 1998 “magic triangle”.

Replacing Mandzukic in the forward line is a responsibility former Arsenal striker Eduardo will likely receive, despite Nikica Jelavic’s strong finish to Hull’s season. The Brazil-born striker, who admitted he could sing BOTH national anthems, is 14/1 to score first against his homeland.

92-cap veteran Ivica Olic and Wolfsburg’s Swiss Army Knife Ivan Perisic will flank him.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.