The two teams who have beaten Spain in Group B meet in a critical matchup to see who will stay in the top four and who will drop out for the time being. The sportsbooks have the Brazilians as -4 ½ favorites, but are they truly the better team?
Home court advantage
There is no doubt the crowd on Thursday is going to be pro-Brazil. The national team had a poor showing in their opener but came back to beat the talented Spanish team by one point. However, after that impressive win, the Brazilians might have a slight letdown against this Croatian team.
The early afternoon start is not going to help a Brazilian team that is likely enjoying the Olympics being in their home country more than most athletes. With that in mind, the Croats are a very tough team and they have seemingly been underrated heading into the tournament.
Croatia not only beat Spain, they held serve against Argentina, who some people claim is the second best team in this tournament behind the United States. While Group A is basically a foregone conclusion that the U.S. will get the top seed into the knockout stage, Group B is seemingly wide open with Spain losing their first two games.
The Sharp Betting Pick
The heart of this game is going to come down to the young players for Croatia versus the veterans of Brazil. The home team has played well outside of the first half against Lithuania, but their problems are pretty glaring. While their defense was strong in their defeat of Spain, their offense has been pretty bare outside of Leandro Barbosa. Even the Brazilian Blur didn’t have a great game against the Spanish team, but the host team got some great production from a variety of role players.
However, the Croatians have shown that their trio of young players is deadly on offense and they have outrebounded both the Argentinians and the Spanish. Bojan Bogdanovic has been outstanding over the first two games, while young studs Mario Hezonja and Dario Saric both woke up against Argentina for two huge games.
These three players are all very good and probably all three better talents than Brazil’s second best player. The aging Barbosa can still get buckets, but if the Croats can slow him down, the Brazilians won’t have enough scoring to counter the talent and depth for the Croatians.
Nene has been solid but is dealing with an injury and has been good on offense but not great on defense. Raul Neto and Marcelo Huertas have both been underwhelming from the other guard spot opposite Barbosa, so Krunoslav Simon should have little trouble dishing and getting to the basket.
The home court advantage is going to leave its mark like it did against the Spanish team on Tuesday night, but in the afternoon game the crowd and Brazilian players might not be that engaged as they were against the Spanish. The Croats, on the other hand, are probably motivated by the fact that their chances of escaping group play have improved a lot with their win over the Spanish, so look for them to build off that and catch the host team by surprise on Thursday afternoon.
Free Soccer Pick: Croatia +4 ½