Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic is value in the scoring markets on Thursday evening.
The two opening games in Group D produced the two most one-sided matches of the first five days from an expected goals perspective with Croatia roughly 1.6 goals superior to Turkey in Paris and the Czech Republic roughly 1.75 goals inferior to Spain 24 hours later in Toulouse. But let’s not get carried away with reading too much into one game.
Croatia were 11/8 to win this clash before the tournament began - they’re now generally 5/6 - and though some shift towards Ante Cacic’s men should have been expected on the back of their dominant 1-0 triumph, there’s still plenty of scope for this game to follow an unpredictable path, not least because the Czechs seem certain to approach it differently.
There was some surprise in the Prague-based media that Pavel Vrba opted to try and contain the Spaniards. It was probably a sensible ploy given how leaky the Czechs had been in qualifying and the potential importance of goal difference for any team finishing third. And it nearly paid dividends too, with Petr Cech just two minutes (plus stoppage time) away from only his second international clean sheet in 22 attempts.
But the lack of ambition shown by sitting off and packing bodies behind the ball was totally at odds with Vrba’s usual attacking principles, leading to some confusion among travelling reporters and even some mild criticism. Harsh though that might seem, we should expect Vrba to revert to type and be a bit more proactive here. Pragmatism doesn’t suit him.
Get your money back with STAN JAMES if your First Goalscorer selection scores second!
So goals could be on the menu in Saint-Etienne and had it not been for the respective running statistics - the Czechs covered an extra six kilometres and played an extra 17 per cent of the game without the ball - plus fact that Croatia benefit from an extra 24 hours rest, I might even have considered chancing the underdogs at nearly 4/1.
Instead, let’s assume both sides will find the scoresheet - meaning Croatia would have to bag at least twice in order to win the game - and explore the goalscorer markets for something that generates a bit of excitement. Once there, you’ll find the name of Marcelo Brozovic trading a little higher than you might have expected.
The Inter Milan youngster plays on right-hand side of the attacking midfield trio in Croatia’s 4-2-3-1 set-up and he registered the most shots (six) of any player in the opening round of matches, although it’s also fair to admit he is far from clinical and his efforts stretched the description of a shot in a couple of those instances.
Nonetheless, his name was a constant theme in commentary and he did get into some excellent danger zone locations, so you should get a decent run for your money if you play the 12/1 on Brozovic to score first and the 23/5 anytime. Given some of the creative quality he is surrounded by, the opportunity to execute a routine finish at some point is far from out of the question.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system