Zlatko Dalic is set to rest players at risk of suspension when Croatia face familiar foes Iceland in a game his counterpart Heimir Hallgrimsson expects will be a typically uncompromising affair.
Croatia and Iceland are well acquainted with one another after meeting in a qualifying play-off for the 2014 World Cup, a tie won 2-0 on aggregate by the Balkan team to deny the minnows their first appearance at the tournament.
They were drawn in the same qualifying group for this year’s event, and both progressed, although it was Iceland who finished two points above Croatia in top spot.
Dalic’s side have already secured passage to the round of 16 courtesy of victories over Nigeria and Argentina, meaning he can afford to protect the six players at risk of suspension for the knockout stages if they pick up a second yellow card, including Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
“I’d like to top the group,” Dalic said.
“But we have to take care because we have some players on yellow cards, so I will change the line-up.
“I will not start those who are on yellow cards because it’s too much of a risk, there are 22 players who can play.”
Hallgrimsson, meanwhile, knows his players are likely to find themselves in a physical battle, as they seek to take advantage of Croatia’s comfortable situation to sneak through in second spot, having drawn 1-1 with Argentina, before losing 2-0 to Nigeria in Volgograd last time out.
“We’ve played Croatia four times in four years, we’ve often said we’re like a married couple — we’re trying to get divorced, but we always meet up again,” he said.
“We know the scenario when we play Croatia – it’s [always] going to be really tough games.
“Normally it’s steel to steel, not a lot of chances, always a lot of yellow cards. In three games out of four, we’ve had a red card.”
The match will take place on familiar territory for three of Iceland’s players, as Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Sverrir Ingi Ingason play their club football for local team FC Rostov.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Iceland – Gylfi Sigurdsson
All eyes will be on Sigurdsson, Iceland’s highest-profile player, to see how the Everton man responds to the disappointment of missing a late penalty that would have pulled his team back into the game against Nigeria.
Croatia – Luka Modric
In the absence of Rakitic, Modric can be expected to continue to make Croatia tick, with the Real Madrid star continuing at this tournament to cement his reputation as one of the best midfielders of his generation.
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) June 23, 2018
KEY OPTA STATS
– Iceland and Croatia met in World Cup 2018 qualifying – both sides winning their home fixtures (Croatia 2-0 and Iceland 1-0).
– Iceland’s only previous victory against Croatia came in the qualifying stages for this tournament, drawing one and losing four otherwise.
– Croatia have won two World Cup games in a row for the first time since 1998 – they’ve never won three consecutively in the competition before.
– Iceland are looking to become the first World Cup debutants to make the knockout stages of a World Cup tournament since Slovakia in 2010.
– Croatia’s Luka Modric has scored with both of his shots on target so far at the 2018 World Cup.
– Iceland midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson attempted just three shots in his last game against Nigeria, with his first two shots landing on target in the first six minutes, and his other shot missing the target from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute.
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