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Familiar foes Spain and Croatia clash again in group opener

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Berlin, June 14: Spain’s bid for a fourth European Championship title begins against Croatia in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium – where the final will be played next month. The other teams in the group are defending champion Italy and Albania. Kickoff is at 9:30 pm IST on Saturday. Here’s what to know about the match:
MATCH FACTS
– Spain and Croatia have met in each of the previous four editions of the European Championship, with Spain knocking out Croatia after a 5-3 extra-time win in the round of 16 at Euro 2020. Spain also defeated Croatia on penalties to win the UEFA Nations League last year.
– Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia team is again led by the evergreen Luka Modric, who at 38 will be playing at the tournament for the fifth time. Modric joins his national teammates after winning a Spanish league and Champions League double with Real Madrid.
– Spain warmed up with big wins over Andorra and Northern Ireland, with Real Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal bagging four goals over the two games.
– Croatia warmed up with an encouraging win over Portugal.
– Spain midfielder Dani Olmo played for Croatian power Dinamo Zagreb between 2014-20. During this time, he played with Croatia players Dominik Livakovic, Bruno Petkovic, Lovro Majer, Josip Sutalo, Josko Gvardiol, Luka Ivanusec, Marko Pjaca and Borne Sosa.
– It’s the first match of Euro 2024 in the German capital, where enthusiasm for the tournament has been slow to build.
– Spain is placing its faith in youngsters Lamine Yamal (16) and Nico Williams (21).
TEAM NEWS
– Spain coach Luis de la Fuente dropped Barcelona teenager Pau Cubarsí and midfielders Marcos Llorente and Aleix García from his final 26-man squad for the tournament. García has since joined Bundesliga winner Bayer Leverkusen. De la Fuente opted instead for Real Betis forward Ayoze Pérez and 21-year-old Barcelona midfielder Fermín López.
BY THE NUMBERS
– Spain has won five of the countries’ previous 10 meetings, with Croatia winning three.
– Only Germany (14 appearances) has played more times at a European Championship than Spain (12), while Croatia is making its seventh appearance overall, and its sixth straight.
– Croatia’s heaviest defeat came against Spain in September 2011, when the Spanish won 6-0 in the Nations League.
– Spain previously won the tournament in 1964, 2008 and 2012, when it became the only country to successfully defend its title.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“We know that the first game is important, it’s important to start on the right foot. But we’ve already seen that many teams win a big tournament after losing the first game, so there’s need to be anxious. It’s obvious that we’re going to go out to win and we’re not going to leave anything behind, we’re going to play with a lot of enthusiasm. We’re very young and we’re very eager for it to start.” – Spain forward Pedri.
“We have had quite a few matchups with Spain. It has always been a close game and I am sure it will be the same this time.” – Croatia left-back Borne Sosa. (AP)

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