Both sides are riding high in Group D, but they approach this showdown in contrasting moods.
Spain looked back to their best in the 3-0 win against Turkey on Friday, while Croatia must still be ruing throwing away a two-goal lead against the Czech Republic in their second game, establishing a two-goal lead in the opening hour.
The loss through injury of Luka Modric, appeared to affect Croatia detrimentally and that, combined with a five minute delay caused by their fans throwing flares on to the pitch, appeared to disturb their concentration levels.
“We suffered a complete meltdown on the pitch because of a handful of irresponsible individuals and if the game had gone on for any longer, we might have lost it,” Croatia coach Ante Cacic said after that game.
Cacic, though, prefers not to dwell on that capitualation, focusing instead on the quality of today’s opponents in Bordeuax. Spain, remember, are unbeaten in 14 games at the European Championship (W11, D3) and they haven’t let in a goal in 690 minutes of action at the tournament.
“This is the game that decides who will be first in our group,” Cacic said. “We are up against a quality side, the double European champions, a team full of quality, of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. A team that know the game and take their chances. They have been playing big games like these for years.
“In some ways we have to have an eye on what is coming up in the knockout stage, so we will use this game as preparation for that. We deserve to get to the next round, as do Spain. The group was really tough. We threw away victory against the Czech Republic, but this match now will help define how Croatia do from here onwards.
“Del Bosque says we’re playing the best football in the group? I haven’t heard that but it’s a big compliment coming from one of the best coaches of one of the best national teams.”
Meanwhile, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque believes that Croatia are one of the best teams in the tournament and won’t be taking them lightly.
“I don’t know if it’s ideal to rest players right now. The players have got some rhythm going and it could be counterproductive to change things. Andrés Iniesta is doing great work going forward. He is in great shape and doing really well.
“Luka Modrić is one of Croatia’s best players and has been excellent for Real Madrid. Generallly speaking, though, Croatia are a really well-organised outfit. We are going to try to beat them and we will pick what we think are the 11 best players at this moment in time. Bear in mind that Croatia are possibly one of the best teams we have seen at the tournament so far.”
Croatia midfielder Luka Modric injured his groin against the Czech Republic and is not expected to feature tonight
Centre-back Vedran Corluka is also doubtful after aggravating a head wound against the Czechs.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque could rotate his squad, with their place in the last 16 already guaranteed.
Centre-back Sergio Ramos is one booking away from a suspension and may be rested.
Croatia: Subašić; Srna, Ćorluka, Vida, Strinić; Brozović, Badelj; Pjaca, Rakitić, Perišić; Mandžukić.
Spain: De Gea; Bellerín, Piqué, San José, Alba; Busquets; Pedro, Thiago, Iniesta, Nolito; Morata.