Series tied 0-0
Iceland: Lars Lagerbäck (8-2-8)
Croatia: Niko Kovač (0-1-0)
Fourth Meeting All-Time
Series History: Croatia 2 wins, Iceland 0 wins, 1 draw
The feeling at the final whistle of the first leg was completely different, depending on which side you were supporting. For Croatia supporters, it was pure frustration; your team is the heavy favorite over a tiny country who has never been this far. It is difficult to play on the road mind you, but still, this is Iceland, who is not known for their football. On top of that, you have one of the best midfielders in the world in Luka Modrić, and at striker, you have a Champions League winner in Mario Mandžukić.
On the other side, it was a combination of jubilation and relief as Iceland held on at home for the 0-0 draw. The Iceland squad showed just how bad they wanted to win this playoff series, having been dealt two major blows to their hopes. Just before halftime, Ajax striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson had to be stretchered off the field due to injury, but there was not need to worry, as he was replaced by legendary Iceland footballer Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen. The worst came in the 50th minute when right back Ólafur Ingi Skúlason was shown a straight red card on a challenge from behind. Iceland proceeded to play with 10 men for the final 40 minutes, and somehow managed to come away with a draw.
Croatia manager Niko Kovač has managed just one game with the national team, and is under extreme pressure to produce this result. He will need to overhaul his tactics, because his style did not work in the first leg and the longer this series stays tied, the more dangerous Iceland will become. With the crowd getting more and more restless, the Croatian players may start to make some more risky plays, which could lead to the breakthrough that Iceland will be looking for.
Croatia Projected Lineup: 4-4-2
Darijo Srna – Josip Šimunić — Vedran Ćorluka –Danijel Pranjić
Ivan Rakitić – Eduardo – Luka Modrić — Ivo Iličević
Mario Mandžukić — Ivica Olić
Iceland Projected Lineup: 4-4-2
Hannes Þór Halldórsson
Birkir Már Sævarsson – Kári Árnason — Ragnar Sigurðsson – Ari Freyr Skúlason
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – Aron Einar Gunnarsson — Birkir Bjarnason — Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson
Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen — Alfreð Finnbogason
Croatia hosts Iceland in the second leg of their UEFA Qualifying Playoff at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb on Tuesday, Nov 19 at 2:15 p.m. ET, and it can be seen online at ESPN3.
This is a two-game aggregate series; away goals are used for the tiebreaker. If the series score and away goals are tied after these ninety minutes then the match will proceed into two fifteen minute extra time periods. If it is still tied then the match will move forward to penalty kicks.
Second Leg Prediction: Iceland 1, Croatia 1 (Series Tied 1-1, Iceland wins via the Away Goals Rule and advances to the World Cup)
Croatia is the better team and they are at home, while Iceland is dealing with injuries, cards and the hostile Zagreb crowd. In the end, however, I cannot pick against Iceland, as they are just too close to let it slip away now.