Verdict: Home win
Best Odds: 15/8
Things could not get any more interesting in Group I where Ukraine and Croatia will battle for a place in the World Cup qualification playoffs after contrasting results in their penultimate matches against Kosovo and Finland, respectively.
A 2-0 away win at rock-bottom Kosovo in their World Cup qualifier on Friday saw Ukraine beat the hosts and rain-soaked weather conditions to revive their hopes of making into the playoffs.
It was an own goal from Leart Paqarada on the hour mark that put Ukraine in front while Andriy Yarmolenko doubled the lead and sealed the win for his team to help Ukraine to three vital points in Group I. It was a labored win from Ukraine but a well-deserved one. The visitors were unlucky at times and could have gone up front early in the first half when Yevhen Konoplyanka hit the woodwork after a stunning solo effort. Ukraine now sit third in the standings but level on points with Croatia. The Monday match in Kiev is therefore likely to decide who gets to earn second place and a possible playoff berth.
The hosts will have no selection issues for the Monday match apart from Artem Kravets who missed out through suspension.
Andriy Schevchenko is likely to field the unchanged squad for the game at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium although Besedin is pushing for a place in the starting lineup.
The anticipating football crowd in Rijeka saw Croatia lose the leading spot in Group I after conceding a 90th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 home clash with Finland on Friday.
Croatia shot themselves in the foot by letting a home win slip through their fingers and will head into the final match of the qualifying stage with their faith out of their hands. Mandzukic opened the scoring three minutes before the hour mark but the lack of focus and composure saw Croatia concede through Soiri in the dying moments of the match. With Iceland taking on rock-bottom Kosovo at home the first spot is all but already decided and Croatia now need to give all their got to settle the runners-up spot in Kiev. The penultimate match of the campaign proved to be crucial for the faith of Croatia coach Ante Cacic, who – having confused Finland with Iceland saying ‘Iceland deserved the draw’ after the match – got sacked two days before the crunch match against Ukraine.
Marcelo Brozovic picked up a calf injury against Finland and will miss the Monday match in Kiev.
Mario Mandzukic also sustained a slight knock but Ante Cacic is hopeful the Juventus striker will be fit to play on Monday.
Key Factors to Consider
- Croatia lost four of last five matches on the road
- Croats managed only one clean sheet in last 6 games
- There were Under 2.5 goals scored in 4 on Ukraine’s last 5 matches
- Ukraine won 4 of their last 5 home matches
- Last two meetings between these two sides ended in draw
Ukraine and Croatia lock horns in what is a vital World Cup qualifier for both nations. The two sides head into the final match of the qualifying process locked on points and with goal difference separating them in the standings. The two sides are in contrasting forms and spirits and it will be extremely interesting to see how they will fare under pressure.
Verdict: Home win
Best Odds: 15/8
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