Croatia VS Iceland Prediction
“Stadion Maksimir” in Croatian capital Zagreb is set to host clash of the two Group I leaders when on Saturday evening Croatia welcomes Iceland in round four of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Both sides remain unbeaten after first three games, but same goes for Ukraine who are closely behind Croatia and Iceland, so situation in qualifying group I looks really intriguing, especially when we also have Turkey on the fourth position. However, Turkey remains in shadow of all other mentioned countries as we have Croatia and Iceland sharing the top with 7 points out of 9 possible, Ukraine is on two points, while Turkey have won just two points in three games, meaning they’re still winless. Finland and Kosovo are both underdogs in qualifying group I, but all top sides must be really careful with them , since we cannot compare these two sides with other sides which are traditionally drawn out of pots 5 and 6.
Head-to-head (H2H) history: Croatia vs Iceland
Croatia and Iceland already have common history when it comes to the H2H record of both nations. Croatia shows absolute dominance when facing Iceland as they’ve won in three out of four previous matches, all of them part from different World Cup qualifiers.
The brief football history of matches facing Croatia vs Iceland started in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying, when Croatia won 4-0 in Zagreb, followed by a comeback from 1-0 to 1-3 in Reykjavík. Later on Croats won their spot for the World Cup finals in Germany, finishing that qualifying campaign without losing a single game.
Eight years later Croatia and Iceland had another two-legged matchup, but in really short-period of time. That happened in November 2013 when Iceland did their best to cause an upset in the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs, but after a goalless draw at the “Laugardalsvöllur” in Icelandic capital Reykjavík, Croatia was convincing in the second leg – 2:0. We describe that victory as a convincing result since Croatia had to play with 10 men for more than 50 minutes, since Mario Mandzukic has been sent-off after just 38 minutes. That was the reason he missed the 2014 FIFA World Cup opener against Brazil, but that’s already another thread.
Croatia vs Iceland – Team News and Match Preview
Three years after losing in Zagreb, Iceland returns with much bigger experience behind its back and we all became observes of the tremendous development in Icelandic football. Heimir Hallgrímsson follows the line of his predecessor and also experienced mentor Lars Lagerbäck (both were joint coaches of Iceland in the period 2013-2016). Right after the remarkable Euro 2016 appearance, Hallgrímsson took over as sole manager with Lagerbäck’s retirement, so the 49-year-old Icelandic coach must deal independently with another major challenge on a route towards Iceland’s first ever World Cup participation.
First World Cup qualifier for Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side was a visit to Ukraine, where Iceland has embittered Andriy Shevchenko’s managerial debut. Game has ended with a draw (1-1), but Ukraine can mostly regret for that outcome since Yevhen Konoplyanka has missed a penalty in 83rd minute.
Journey to Ukrainian capital Kyiv has been followed by two home games in October, starting with a massive comeback against another Nordic nation – Finland. Visitors from Finland were leading 1-2 on half-time and they were really close to squeeze something out of this, especially after an unsuccessful penalty kick by Gylfi Sigurdsson in first minutes of the second half. Anyway, Iceland were lethal in closing seconds of the match when first of all Alfred Finnbogason leveled the score in 90th minute, while defender Ragnar Sigurdsson made that game even more memorable, after scoring for final 3-2 in 95th minute.
Few days after that superb comeback, morale in the team was sky-high, which could easily be seen with a 2-0 win against Turkey. We must note that Iceland outplayed Turkey in that game and they did it without suspended captain Aron Gunnarsson, whose absence was a real blow to Heimir Hallgrímsson’s approach. Nevertheless, Iceland showed great spirit and character, which helped them to level Croatia on top of the group.
“Vatreni” hold first position in the group and that’s pretty much influenced by a 6-0 win against Kosovo on matchday two. However, it was preceded by a disappointing draw against Turkey in Croatia’s first home qualifier, when Ante Cacic’s men were dominating in most of the time, but they failed to realize their scoring chances.
Two months after the home failure (we can easily rate above-mentioned draw as such, since Croatia were clear favourites) against Turkey, Croatia returns in Zagreb after two victories on the road. Except that expressive success over Kosovo in Albania, Croatia also won in Finland, where a first-half combination between both attackers Andrej Kramaric and Mario Mandzukic was key to success for the Croats.
Croatia vs Iceland – Betting Prediction and Possible Lineups
Croatia seems to be the favourite once again but Iceland can be really tricky opposition, as they proved us in the last few years. Not only at the UEFA Euro 2016 finals, but in the qualifying as well, where Iceland achieved prestigious victories over Turkey, Czech Republic and the Netherlands (twice!).
It’s true that Croatia owns one of the most impressive national pools, especially for a country with less than 5 million people population. Ante Cacic must meet the expectations which are for nothing else than winning of first position and respectively booking tickets for Russia. Otherwise we highly doubt that Croatian Football Federation will retain its credit over him.
Dejan Lovren, Ivan Strinic, Domagoj Antolic and Marjo Pjaca are players who did not received call up by Ante Cacic, compared to the squad used in October. Fiorentina’s striker Nikola Kalinic has picked up an injury and he’ll also miss the World Cup qualifier vs Iceland and friendly match vs Northern Ireland few days later, so Mario Mandzukic will most likely lead Croatia’s attack on Saturday night. Mandzukic and Kramaric were both on the pitch against Finland but we don’t expect same 4-4-2 formation here, so Ante Cacic may return to the previously used 4-2-3-1.
Heimir Hallgrímsson can once again rely to captain Aron Gunnarsson who served its suspension against Turkey and he’ll improve Iceland’s midfield against Croatia. Gunnarsson will be brought back to the squad as the defensive midfielder next to Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has more offensive functions, so with presence of Birkir Bjarnason and Johann Berg Gudmundsson we find really decent potential in the Icelandic midfield quartet.
In fact, our opinion is that Iceland’s midfield formation can be a real threat for Croatian defense here, since we’re all aware with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s quality, while players like Johann Gudmundsson and Birkir Bjarnason are really sharp. This doesn’t mean we should underestimate attackers of Iceland here, although main players like Alfred Finnbogason and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson have been ruled out through injuries. That’s an excellent opportunity for players like Jón Dadi Bödvarsson and Vidar Örn Kjartansson, who are the most expected starting duo here, as well as for Elías Már Ómarsson and Björn Bergmann Sigurdarson, who may be options from the bench, if necessary.
Final conclusion and Betting Prediction
Battle in midfield will be crucial for the final outcome from that qualifier and everything else than a home win will be huge disappointment for Croatia, while draw or even a victory will be another sign for rise of Iceland.
Our betting prediction goes for goals by both sides – “Both teams to score – Yes“. Odds are really tempting and we find great value in such a bet. Croatia and Iceland surely have the potential for scoring.
Venue: “Stadion Maksimir”, Zagreb.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi from Italy.
Possible starting lineups of Croatia and Iceland
Croatia: Danijel Subasic – Sime Vrsaljko, Vedran Corluka, Domagoj Vida, Josip Pivaric – Milan Badelj, Luka Modric – Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic – Mario Mandzukic. (4-2-3-1)
Iceland: Hannes Thór Halldórsson – Ari Skulason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Kari Arnason, Birkir Már Saevarsson – Birkir Bjarnason, Aron Gunnarsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Johann Berg Gudmundsson – Jón Dadi Bödvarsson, Vidar Örn Kjartansson. (4-4-2)