Croatia vs. Iceland: Prediction, Preview and Key Battles

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Croatia vs. Iceland: Prediction, Preview and Key Battles
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Iceland and Croatia drew 0-0 on Friday, leaving their World Cup play-off delicately poised ahead of Tuesday's second leg.

On paper, this should be a breeze for Croatia. Niko Kovac's side are currently ranked 18th in the world, 28 places above Iceland in 46th.

They have been to three of the past four World Cups, finishing third in 1998, while their opponents have never appeared at a major tournament.

However, these countries have been in contrasting form of late, highlighted by their most recent ranking moves.

Croatia slipped eight places from eighth to 18th, following one point from their past four qualifiers, while Iceland have risen eight places themselves after an impressive string of results.

Here's a look ahead to the return tie between these two sides, along with a few key battles.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

What: World Cup play-off, second leg

Who: Croatia vs. Iceland

Where: Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb

When: Tuesday, Nov. 19

Start: 20:15 (local), 19:15 (GMT)

 

Luka Modric vs. Aron Gunnarsson

Part of Croatia's appeal in this tie is the presence of a few world-class performers, one of whom is Luka Modric.

The Real Madrid midfielder will be charged with constructing attacks and finding that killer pass to unlock Iceland's defence. Up against him will be Cardiff City's Aron Gunnarsson, who was one of his nation's best players during the first leg.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

His job will be to disrupt Modric's rhythm and win possession with Croatia in advanced positions. That will allow Iceland an opportunity to break against fewer bodies, giving them a better chance of finding that crucial away goal.

 

Mario Mandzukic vs. Ragnar Sigurdsson

Playing on home soil, Croatia are likely to be on the attack for much of the second leg, and much of their hope relies on Mario Mandzukic's form.

While the Bayern Munich man provided a number of openings for his team-mates on Friday, Ragnar Sigurdsson limited his chances in front of goal.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

In fact, Mandzukic didn't register one shot himself, according to WhoScored, mainly due to Sigurdsson's excellence. A repeat performance from the Copenhagen centre-back will put Iceland in pole position for an upset.

 

Gylfi Sigurdsson vs. Darijo Srna

This battle will be a fascinating contest of positional discipline. Darijo Srna's natural urge is to attack from right-back and spend much of the game in the opponent's final third. 

At the same time, Gylfi Sigurdsson prefers to drift in from the left and spend phases of play in central areas, potentially leaving pockets of space down the left flank.

Sigurdsson will be expected to be the more reserved of the two and track Srna, although the space behind Croatia's right-back will tempt him and could be Iceland's best hope of scoring.

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Prediction

Croatia are the major favourites but rely on individual qualities which reduce their consistency.

Iceland have built an impressive team spirit and have an exciting crop of young players in and around their squad.

The home side will dominate the game but their failure to get a goal in Iceland leaves their fate hanging precariously, which may just lead to a surprise outcome.

Croatia 1-1 Iceland (Iceland qualify 1-1 on away goals)

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