Sports Mole previews Wednesday’s International Friendlies clash between Croatia and Saudi Arabia, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
The Green Men most recently drew 1-1 with Panama in an exhibition game last Thursday, while Zlatko Dalic‘s men have not been in action since beating Austria 3-1 in the UEFA Nations League back in September.
Stringing together a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions should certainly set Saudi Arabia up well for a meeting with last year’s losing World Cup finalists, even if Herve Renard‘s side have not been involved in many goal-laden performances in recent months.
After opening their November friendly period with a 1-0 success over Iceland, Saudi Arabia played out a 1-1 draw with Panama last Thursday, as Ismael Diaz‘s eighth-minute opener was cancelled out by a Haitham Asiri finish eight minutes before the break.
Renard’s men are preparing to compete at the World Cup finals for the second time in a row after going out in the group stage in 2018, and it will take something special for the AFC side to avoid a similar fate against Argentina, Mexico and Poland in Group C this time around.
Fans should not expect plentiful goalmouth action in Wednesday’s encounter, as Saudi Arabia have only found the back of the net four times in their seven-game unbeaten run, as well as conceding a mere two goals – keeping a highly respectable five clean sheets.
Incredibly, not since October 2021 has a game involving Saudi Arabia seen more than two goals scored, with the Green Men beating China 3-2 in World Cup qualifying, and that encounter also marked the most recent time that the world’s 51st-ranked nation conceded two goals on home soil.
Dalic had not even celebrated his first anniversary in charge of Croatia when he led the Chequered Ones out for their first-ever World Cup final four years ago, which ended in misery at the hands of France on a rain-soaked evening in Moscow.
Unsurprisingly topping their qualification group for the 2022 edition having only lost one game, Croatia also head into the Qatar tournament with the wind in their sails after making it through to the Nations League Finals – finishing top of League A Group 1 and gleaning revenge over France in the process.
While other teams faltered amid the hectic fixture list, the Chequered Ones recorded four victories in their final four Nations League games to make it through to the finals and now face the unenviable task of trying to go one better at the World Cup.
Croatia have been paired with Belgium, Morocco and Canada in Group F of the tournament and will begin their quest for glory against the African nation on November 23, and playing away from their headquarters does not phase Dalic’s side, who have won each of their last six away games in all competitions.
Wednesday’s game will mark the first-ever meeting between Saudi Arabia and Croatia, who could be forgiven for adopting a conservative approach to this friendly in order to avoid any devastating injuries before the World Cup.
Croatia International Friendlies form:
Croatia form (all competitions):
Saudi Arabia International Friendlies form:
Saudi Arabia have been rocked by a doping scandal mere days before the World Cup is due to kick off, as Fahad Al-Muwallad was cut from the squad after he tested positive for furosemide in March.
The attacker – who had represented his country at the 2018 World Cup – saw his suspension lifted before an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), so Renard has elected to replace him with Nawaf Al-Abed.
While Renard will certainly take the opportunity to give as many of his players minutes as he can, established regulars such as 71-cap defender Yasser Al-Shahrani and 17-goal midfielder Salem Al-Dawsari should line up from the off. Experienced lynchpin Salman Al-Faraj was taken off injured in the win over Iceland on November 6, but Renard has confirmed that he will be fine for the World Cup.
Similarly, Croatia have a fresh injury concern to work around in the form of Borna Sosa, who missed Stuttgart’s Bundesliga clash with Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday with a muscular issue and may not be risked for this friendly.
Dalic should otherwise be working with his full World Cup contingent as he prepares to return to Saudi Arabia following his stint in management with Al-Faisaly and Al-Hilal, and the notable absentees from the Chequered Ones’ squad are undoubtedly Duje Caleta-Car, Josip Brekalo and Antonio Colak.
Should 33-year-old defender Domagoj Vida come into the side here, he will earn his 100th cap for the national team – becoming the 10th player to do so and going level with Dario Simic in the appearance charts.
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barisic; Majer, Brozovic, Pasalic; Vlasic, Kramaric, Perisic
Saudi Arabia possible starting lineup:
Al-Owais; Abdulhamid, Tambakti, Al-Amri, Al-Shahrani; Al-Najei, Kanno, Al-Malki; Asiri, Al-Brikan, Al-Daswari
We say: Saudi Arabia 0-2 Croatia
Saudi Arabia have demonstrated defensive acumen and a lack of ruthlessness in equal measure in recent months, and the latter should prove costly against an in-form Croatia XI.
Both managers may avoid risking their biggest stars for long periods this week, but the Chequered Ones should still have no trouble getting the job done before the big one begins.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.