Ice­land seek re­venge in Croa­tia

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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.

Empty sta­dium

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.

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