Preview: Croatia vs. North Macedonia – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Monday’s friendly fixture between Croatia and North Macedonia, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Beginning their build-up to Euro 2024, Croatia welcome North Macedonia to Rijeka for an international friendly on Monday evening.

Ultimately aiming to improve on a string of near misses, the World Cup bronze medallists start preparations for this summer’s finals in Germany with a run-out on home turf.

Match preview

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As a golden generation in Croatian football surely nears its end, the national team are hoping to be crowned European champions next month, after finishing second and third at the last two World Cups and reaching the latest UEFA Nations League final.

Of course, Croatia suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat to Spain at De Kuip, so their search for silverware goes on, and the current squad will also want to improve upon a mediocre Euros record.

The Vatreni have yet to progress past the quarter-finals and were eliminated in the last 16 both eight years ago and at Euro 2020 – and for a brief moment, their participation this summer seemed in some doubt during qualifying.

Cruising through until back-to-back defeats at home to Turkey and away in Wales, Zlatko Dalic‘s side saw their destiny taken out of their own hands, before wins over Latvia and Armenia ultimately sealed progression via a top-two finish.

Facing defending champions Italy, Spain and an improving Albania in Group B will prove a stern test of Croatia’s credentials, so Monday’s friendly in Rijeka – and Saturday’s away game against Portugal – could prove important warm-ups for the main event.

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While Croatia kick off their Euros campaign with a high-profile contest against Spain in Berlin, North Macedonia will watch on from afar, having missed out on qualification from a competitive qualifying group.

Continental heavyweights England and Italy took the top two spots, with Ukraine claiming a place in the playoffs; so despite holding the former pair to 1-1 draws, the Lynxes saw their involvement cut short.

Three years since the Macedonians made their major finals debut at the delayed Euro 2020, they are instead building towards their next Nations League campaign – Armenia, Faroe Islands and Latvia will be their opponents in League C Group 4.

Head coach Blagoja Milevski – who was also in charge when his nation narrowly missed out on Qatar 2022 by losing to Portugal in the playoffs – is also building for the future, with the next World Cup now just two years away.

Last time out, Milevski saw his side lose 1-0 to Montenegro in Antalya, Turkey; leaving them without a win in four matches and no clean sheets in six.

Croatia friendly form:

Croatia form (all competitions):

North Macedonia friendly form:

North Macedonia form (all competitions):

Team News

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Zlatko Dalic may use Monday’s game as a chance to experiment, given a weekend clash with Portugal is likely to provide Croatia with a tougher test, but almost all of his vastly-experienced players are available.

Torino forward Nikola Vlasic has been sidelined by an adductor problem for the last few weeks, but leading scorer Ivan Perisic (33 goals) is now nearing full fitness, after returning from a serious knee injury.

Fellow forward Andrej Kramaric is the second-top scorer in the hosts’ squad, with 29 goals, while other established stars such as Mateo Kovavic and captain Luka Modric are joined by emerging talents like Bundesliga-winning Bayer Leverkusen defender Josip Stanisic and Ajax centre-back Josip Sutalo.

Meanwhile, North Macedonia will be without inspirational captain Enis Bardhi – who scored in the draws with England and Italy – as the Trabzonspor midfielder recently sustained a shoulder injury.

Blagoja Milevski has decided against calling up a replacement for the trip to Croatia and next week’s game against Czech Republic, so the creative burden falls heavily on RB Leipzig’s Eljif Elmas and Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski.

Of the 27 men initially selected, only one plays in Macedonia’s domestic league – back-up goalkeeper Igor Aleksovski.

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Sutalo, Pongracic, Gvardiol; Brozovic, Modric, Kovacic; Majer, Kramaric, Pjaca

North Macedonia possible starting lineup:
Dimitrievski; Manev, Musliu, Serafimov; Dimoski, Atanasov, Alimi, Alioski; Elmas; Ristovski, Miovski

We say: Croatia 2-0 North Macedonia

After a busy season, both squads may lack some sharpness in their first June friendly, with either manager using Monday’s match to assess their options.

Therefore, the hosts should pick up a positive result without reaching top gear, ahead of a tougher test against Portugal next time out.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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