Croatia will take their undefeated (5-0-1) World Cup qualifying record against an already eliminated Scotland team this Friday from Maksimir in Zagreb. The Vatreni have only dropped points to co-group A leaders, Belgium, drawing the Belgians 1-1 in Brussels back on September 11th. Although both teams have a runaway lead in the group with 16 points apiece, Belgium has a slight +3 goal differential on Croatia. With top spot earning an automatic berth to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Croatia will look for plenty of goals against a staggering Scottish side that has only scored one goal on the road this campaign, losing all three games in the process.
Belgium host Serbia on Friday in Brussels, already defeating the Serbs 3-0 on the road. Croatia is looking for some help from their Balkan neighbors but control their own destiny for booking a direct ticket to Brazil. Win out and they are in. What remains: vs. Scotland, @Serbia, vs. Belgium and @Scotland.
However, for the Scotland game this Friday, Croatia will be without the services of star midfielder Luka Modrić and defenders Vedran Ćorluka and Dejan Lovren, due to yellow card suspensions. Ivan Perišić will return to the team after missing the March qualifiers due to a leg injury. Striker Mario Mandžukić will look to maintain his scoring form before heading into the summer break, and deservedly so, trying to add one more international win to his already superb ‘treble’ season at Bayern Munich.
Most people have already chalked up three points for Croatia, looking to see how many goals will hit the back of the net against the Scots. But remember how much trouble Croatia had against Wales in their last qualifying match, going down early and needing two late goals for the victory. You can’t underestimate any team in international competition anymore, but Croatia will nonetheless be gunning for a victory and tons of goals on home soil.
Things to look for:
Will Sammir get decent playing time, setting up a transfer out of Dinamo Zagreb this summer?
Will 16 year-old phenom Alen Halilović get capped for the first time, making him a Croatian player for the rest of his career?
Can Croatia overtake Belgium in the table, setting up an all-important clash in Zagreb on October 11th?