Iceland vs Croatia: World Cup 2018 Match Preview
Group D was blown wide open in the second round of fixtures, as Croatia beat Argentina 3-0 and Nigeria overcame Iceland 2-0. The Vatreni are safely through to the round of 16 and are all but mathematically guaranteed to finish in top spot, but the three other sides in this section can still qualify for the knockout phase if results go their way on Tuesday night.
Croatia were mightily impressive in their aforementioned triumph over Argentina. After an even first half in which both teams had their chances, Ante Rebic capitalised on a major error from Willy Caballero to volley his side in front, before Zlatko Dalic’s charges expertly picked off the Albiceleste on the counter-attack.
It was a ruthless and professional performance from a Croatia side who could finally fulfil their perennial tag of dark horses after disappointments in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Luka Modric was the game’s standout player in the centre of the park, but there is plenty to like in this team besides the Real Madrid maestro. Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic complete a wonderfully technical midfield – arguably the best in the competition – with Mateo Kovacic providing excellent cover on the bench.
Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida form a solid partnership in the heart of the backline, while Rebic and Ivan Perisic are speedy, direct wingers who can cause problems on the counter-attack and provide an alternative to the probing passing of Modric and Rakitic.
At the top of the pitch, meanwhile, Mario Mandzukic is excellent at pressing from the front and offering himself as a target for crosses and long balls forward. Croatia should have nothing to fear in the knockout stage, where they are likely to face Denmark at the weekend.
Draw is a likely outcome
Victory over Nigeria would have taken Iceland to the brink of qualification for the last 16, but Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men were unable to capitalise on a positive first-half display and conceded twice after the interval to slip to third place in Group D.
This is a team who are built to play when the scores are level or when they are defending a lead, but when they were forced to chase the match against the Super Eagles, Iceland seemed to lack creativity and invention in the final third.
They did spurn a golden opportunity to halve the deficit when Gylfi Sigurdsson skied a penalty over the bar with 10 minutes left to play, but even that may not have been enough to bring a positive outcome on Friday afternoon.
Dalic has already confirmed he will shuffle his starting XI for this game, with first place already in the bag unless Nigeria are able to inflict a heavy defeat upon Argentina. That will have an impact on the result but the Croatian reserves will be determined to make an impact ahead of the knockout phase, so rotation does not necessarily mean Iceland are favourites to triumph.
By Greg Lea
After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.