- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

SAINT-MARTIN-DE-RE, France (AP) - Croatia may be without one of its best players for its toughest match at the European Championship.

Luka Modric is nursing a muscle injury and is doubtful to play in the decisive Group D match against defending champion Spain on Tuesday.

Spain has already advanced to the round of 16, but Croatia needs at least a draw at Stade de Bordeaux to secure second place without depending on other results.

The Croats are second in the group with four points, two behind Spain and three ahead of the Czech Republic. Turkey has yet to earn a point. Croatia would still be likely to advance as one of the best third-place teams regardless of Tuesday’s results.

Modric got hurt in the second half of the 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic on Friday, when Croatia relinquished a two-goal lead late in the game to miss a chance to clinch its berth in the knockout stage.

“We will wait to see his condition and then decide whether he will play or not,” Croatia coach Ante Cacic said about Modric. “We are building the team around him and we are limited without him.”

Cacic also may not be able to count on forward Mario Mandzukic because of a muscle injury.

The Croatian soccer federation said both players underwent tests on Saturday and results didn’t show any major injuries, but it was “still early” to know whether they would be fit to play on Tuesday.

“The final decision will be made depending on their day-to-day recovery,” the federation said.

Modric is crucial for Croatia at midfield, helping the team defensively and offensively. Croatia collapsed in the game against the Czechs after the Real Madrid midfielder had to be substituted in the 62nd minute. He had scored Croatia’s winner in the opening match against Turkey with a remarkable long-range volley.

Modric is one of the Croatians who play in the Spanish league, along with Madrid teammate Mateo Kovacic and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

“It’s always difficult against Spain, but there is always a way to face them,” Rakitic said. “Let’s make them think a little about us. We’ve shown what we can do.”

Croatia hasn’t beaten Spain in 22 years. In their only previous competitive meeting, La Roja won 1-0 in the final group game at Euro 2012.

Spain safely advanced to the next round of this year’s competition by beating the Czech Republic 1-0 and Turkey 3-0. It remains unclear if Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque will rest some of the team’s regular starters on Tuesday. The coach looked at a few alternatives in practice on Sunday, but he said he will make his final decision closer to the match.

Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas said the goal is to finish at the top of the group regardless of the eventual opponent in the knockout stage.

“This next game is very important because it’s crucial for us to be first in the group. It will be determinant for the rest of the tournament,” Fabregas said. “We got off to a good start. We have been playing well until now. But it’s still early.”

Two-time defending champion Spain is unbeaten in 14 games at the European Championship and hasn’t conceded a goal since its opener in 2012, a 1-1 draw against Italy.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

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