Well, we’re definitely getting our money’s worth with this Croatian team.
For a second straight qualifying campaign, Croatia will require a two-legged playoff tie in order to make it to the big dance. But unlike Turkey two years ago, this one’s a bit different.
Croatia crushed Turkey 3-0 on the road in 2011 and all but ended the tie before the two teams even stepped foot in Zagreb for the second game. But with Croatia’s inability to score an away goal against 10-man Iceland on Friday, the scenario becomes simple with tactics being a whole other discussion.
It’s quite simple. Croatia win and they’re in. Lose and watch the World Cup with Mai Tai’s by the pool.
But a draw favors visitors Iceland. Sine the away goals rule is in play, should Iceland draw 1-1 or 2-2 in Zagreb, they would be going to the World Cup for the first time in history. If the game ends 0-0, an extra 30 minute period will be played with penalties the final decider if no goals are scored. But this is where tactics are key for manager Niko Kovač in a game where one goal can make or break your World Cup berth.
It has been reported out of Zagreb that Iceland will play a conservative 4-4-1-1 formation which would be implemented to keep Croatia without a goal throughout the game, utilizing a bunker/counter-attack approach. Star midfielder Luka Modrić has already said before Tuesday’s match that: ‘Iceland will play for penalties.’
That may be true, but at this point Iceland is playing with house money and will come into Maksimir full of confidence. Playing with 10 men for nearly half the match in Reykjavik, shutting out Croatia in the process, they know they could bunker down at a moment’s notice to get the job done. That’s why Croatia needs to be careful of conceding a goal to Iceland. Not only would the Vatreni have to score twice in the game, but Iceland would throw 11 players behind the ball for the rest of the match.
That’s why Croatia has to start hot and find a goal in the first half while obviously keeping Iceland at bay. That will cause Iceland to open up in search of an equalizing goal where Croatia can finally take advantage and break the bank. That’s why Kovač needs to start a player who will run at the Icelandic defense to open up the sides. If Eduardo can do that, fine. But if Fiorentina’s Ante Rebić can duplicate what he did late off the bench in Reykjavik; then start him. Croatia needs to be aggressive and quick offensively Tuesday night and stop the slow motion antics.
If Croatia can do that they will 2-0 in Zagreb and punch their ticket to the World Cup in Brazil. However, the longer the game remains scoreless, the more it favors Iceland. Let’s hope for a quick goal to relax the nerves because a frustrating Icelandic bunker in a scoreless game will eat at the players and the fans alike at Maksimir.