Iceland seek revenge in Croatia
REYKJAVIK: Iceland will be looking for revenge and confirmation of their recent form today when they take on old foe Croatia, who deprived them of a spot in the 2014 World Cup. While fans bitterly remember Iceland’s draw (0-0) and later defeat (0-2) to Croatia which ended their dream of competing in Brazil the squad rose from the ashes by qualifying for Euro 2016, where they beat England 2-1 to reach the quarter finals. “Losing to Croatia back then only fired up the players to get better results,” Vidir Sigurdsson, head of sports for the Icelandic daily Morgunbladid said. “After that match in 2013 the players sat down in the dressing room and swore to qualify for the Euro.”
Iceland are now targeting a first World Cup participation in 2018. And it is a credible contender after a draw with Ukraine (1-1) and a victory at home against a passive Turkey (2-0). This was followed by a shocking game against Finland in October, when they were about to lose in their old, naive ways, before shaking Reykjavik with two goals in the 90th and 96th minutes (3-2). The next stop is Zagreb with Croatia and Iceland leading Group I with seven points each. “Zagreb is a great test, especially since only one team goes through to the World Cup. In principle Croatia is the most likely to win the group,” Sigurdsson noted.
But the match will be closed to the public as FIFA fined Croatia for the “inappropriate behavior” of its fans during the World Cup qualifier against Kosovo on October 6. Even in a stadium that will sound hollow, Icelandic supporters expect a tough challenge. “I’m really scared. They have a good team which will be difficult to beat,” Sveinn Einarsson, a 46-year-old Iceland fan said.
Croatia started with a draw against Turkey (1-1) at home, before defeating Kosovo (6-0) and Finland (10). Iceland have also been hit by injuries to Augsburg forward Alfred Finnbogason and Galatasaray striker Sigthorsson. In their absence coach Heimir Hallgrimsson could opt to make an exception to the traditional 4-4-2 and beef up midfield positions. But the direct and energetic play style, which made the team a challenger in France, is still there with the same physical intensity and effectiveness before the goal. The return of Iceland’s former manager Lars Lagerback to his native Sweden has hardly been felt.