It will be a fascinating conclusion to Group D when Iceland battles Croatia on Tuesday afternoon. Croatia has cruised through their first two matches at the World Cup and have already guaranteed themselves a place in the round of 16. Even though there is a chance they could fall out of first place, it is a slim one at that. Croatia as a result will also very likely avoid France (assuming they finish 1st), in a round of 16 crossover. Due to this, it will be fascinating to see what type of lineup Croatia goes with against Iceland. Even though it is mostly meaningless to them, it definitely is not meaningless to the three other sides vying for qualification rights in the group.
Iceland meanwhile have to be shocked at their mediocre performance last week vs. Nigeria. They are a lot better than they showed, and the Icelandic squad clearly had trouble matching up with the speed and physicality of the aggressive Nigerians. Iceland’s shape and structure seemed off, and that rigid team-defense was gashed twice by Ahmed Musa of Nigeria. They will enter the final group stage match knowing they need a victory to secure qualification, and some help from Nigeria vs. Argentina in the other game. Can they take advantage of a depleted and weakened Croatian side? Read on below to find out with a full preview and betting prediction.
Croatia vs. Iceland Betting Odds:
Over 2 (-145)
Under 2 (+125)
Croatia vs. Iceland Pick:
This game has big round of 16 implications, though Croatia’s manager Zlatko Dalic doesn’t really care about that. He has made it clear that he is doing what is best for his side going forward, and with the top spot in the group all but secured, it’s beleived Dalic will sit out six first-team players. This of course protects them against injuries and potential yellow card accumulation. It’s believed starters such as Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic will be left out of the squad vs. Iceland.
Iceland will need to play an unfamiliar game and push for a victory. They’ll also need to ensure they’re monitoring the scoreboard of Argentina/Nigeria, as they’ll want to have a favorable goal differential on other Group D rivals as well. Iceland is quite familiar with Croatia, having seen them twice in their qualifying group. Iceland actually topped that group, but has shown some weaknesses here in Russia so far.
Manager Heimir Hallgrimsson knows that they can beat Croatia having done that recently back home in Iceland. For this match, look for Hallgrimsson to emphasize offense and attacking play. Nigeria burned Iceland on the counter but I really don’t think Iceland will need to worry about that when they take on this depleted Croatian group. The Croatians will not be pushing forward all that much, and plus – they’ll be fielding a starting eleven that won’t have had that much familiarity with one another. Croatia is likely fine to lose this match, but not by more than one or two goals as they still would like to finish first in the group.
Iceland aren’t the more talented side, even against Croatian second-stringers, but look for them to get back to their team-centric approach that can be super effective. Look for a high and aggressive press to frustrate Croatia and expect the Icelandic desperation to prevail in a match they need three points. In the past and all through qualifying, Iceland has shown a decent ability to score when they need to – and I foresee Tuesday’s match providing more of the same. On the betting odds, it’s hard not to lean Iceland here playing against a demotivated and depleted Croatian group. I think Iceland takes full advantage and might just sneak in ahead of Argentina and Croatia.
MY PICK = Iceland (+240)