On 1 December last year, when the first rounds of the first round of the World Cup in Russia were raffled, no one imagined that Croatia and Iceland, low-profile and non-traditional selections in the tournament, can enter into the history of the Worlds.
This Tuesday’s game at Rostov Arena in Rostov will mark the third round of Group D, one of the most exciting in the competition, in which one team is already qualified (Croatia) and the other three still fight for phase (Iceland, Nigeria, and Argentina).
On the one hand, the Croatians want to enter the select group of teams that have won all three games of the first phase without taking goals. This achievement was previously achieved only by Brazil in 1986, Italy in 1990, Argentina in 1998 and Uruguay in the current edition.
Two more factors encourage Croatia for the match. One of them is to sustain the first place in the group and escape from the possible confrontation with France in the round of 16. The Europeans beat Nigeria (2-0) and Argentina (3-0) and have six points.
The other stimulus is to dispatch Iceland, in a kind of revenge. A year ago, the two sides met in the European Qualifiers and the Icelanders won 1-0, with a goal in the 45th minute of the second half.
The result broke the good times of the Croatians, who were well into the competition but were shocked by the setback, wavered in the following games and would ensure they qualified for the Russian Cup only in the play-off against Greece.
“Now is a good way to get the money right,” coach Zlatko Dalic said. “They ruined our vacation because of that game. We want to make up for that defeat now,” Milan midfielder Badelj added.
But despite all the historic bulge of the match, Croatia should enter the field without six starters. Midfielder Brozovic is automatically suspended for the second yellow card. Right-back Vrsaljko, defender Corluka, midfielder Rakitic and strikers Rebic and Mandzukic can be spared because they are hung. The strategy aims to keep the team without embezzlement in the next phase.
On the other side of the clash, the Icelanders aim to qualify for the second round right after the first World Cup they dispute. They – who has already charmed the European continent with their performance at the 2016 Euro Cup, by presenting a showy football and falling only in the quarterfinals for France – are committed to showing the world that they are much more than a frozen country of 335 thousand inhabitants, with curious characteristics. “If we get the job, it will probably be the biggest success in the history of Icelandic football,” said coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, a dentist in his spare time.
To make history, they need to beat Croatia and cheer for Nigeria’s stumble against Argentina. The tie between the Africans and South Americans will also be celebrated by the Icelanders, who have only one point – the Nigerians have three and the Argentines, one.
In search of victory, Iceland will have support from Russian supporters and will practically play “at home” against the Croats. That’s because three of his players play for Rostov’s home team: center backs Sverrir Ingason and Ragnar Sigurdsson and striker Bjorn Sigurdarson.
In a clash that apparently would be unpretentious, Croatia and Iceland will definitely write their names in the history of the Cups.