Dani Osmo will face familiar opponents when Spain takes on Croatia in the round of 16 of the European Championship.
In fact, he could easily have lined up for Croatia instead of Spain at Euro 2020.
The attacking midfielder turned down offers from the Croatia national team after leaving Barcelona academy for Dinamo Zagreb at the age of 16 and spending six seasons at the club.
Olmo has never played senior club football in Spain, he moved to RB Leipzig in 2020 but does not regret his decision to stay in his home country.
“There was interest from Croatia, but I always preferred to play for Spain,” said Olmo.
Olmo, 23, is one of a group of young players who have been given leading roles in Luis Enrique’s new Spanish squad. Against Croatia, he has the additional role of being the internal expert on opposing players.
“Our coach knows the Croatia team well. If he asks me, I’ll share my opinion with him,” said Olmo. “I’ve played with the majority of their players. I think (Bruno) Petkovic stands out. He is a complete player and we have to pay him special attention.
However, Croatia will be deprived of one of their best players for the match in Copenhagen after striker Ivan Perisic tested positive for COVID-19. Perisic, who scored two goals in the group stage, will have to isolate himself for 10 days and will also miss the quarter-finals and semi-finals if Croatia advance this far.
Spain and Croatia both appear to be peaking at just the right time after slow tournament starts. Spain beat Slovakia 5-0 in their last group game to qualify, while Croatia beat Scotland 3-1 to finish second behind England in Group D.
The two also have a strong tournament pedigree, although their recent trajectories have taken opposite directions. Croatia reached the 2018 World Cup final before losing to France, and 13 of those players are still in the squad.
Spain won three consecutive majors between 2008-2012, including two European Championships, but lost in the round of 16 at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Moreover, only seven players from the Spanish team had played in a previous major tournament.
One of those veterans, Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, gave the squad a boost on his return to the game against Slovakia after testing positive for coronavirus ahead of the tournament.
Luis Enrique continued Spain’s traditional possession-based approach, but the team’s attacking play seemed laborious in the first two games against defensive-minded Sweden and Poland.
Croatia, however, will play a more aggressive style and won’t let Spain dominate possession.
“When the Spaniards have the ball they force it, they struggled a bit in the first two games to score,” said Croatian defender Duje Caleta-Car.
“We have players who can show their quality through possession as well, and that’s where I see our chance. They haven’t been through that yet, for someone to take the ball away from them.”
Croatia midfielder Nikola Vlasic has also warned against giving Spain too much time on the ball.
“We definitely have to keep them from feeling comfortable and playing their football,” Vlasic said. “It would be fatal for us because they are really good technically.”
Veteran Croatian Luka Modric has shown with his goal against Scotland that he remains a formidable force at 35 and will be the player who tries to dictate the game.
“He is their engine and the heart of the Croatian national team,” Olmo said of Modric.
“Croatia’s attack stems from its boots.”
As for Spain’s attack, the focus will once again be on Alvaro Morata. The Spain forward received a torrent of abuse online after missing a penalty against Slovakia and also came under heavy criticism after the first two games, despite a goal against Poland.
Morata said he received threats against his children and was unable to sleep for nine hours after the game against Slovakia. But with Spain having reclaimed their touch-in-goal against Slovakia, the team may not have as much to rely on Morata.
This is good news for Luis Enrique.
Spain have missed their last five penalties in total, including two at Euro 2020, so the coach is unlikely to relish the prospect of a shootout.
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