To have a chance of qualifying for the Last 16 of the World Cup, Iceland need victory against a Croatia side nailed-on to top Group D. Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) offers his best bets.
Iceland v Croatia | Tuesday 26th June 2018, 19:00 | BBC
Croatia have guaranteed their place in the Last 16 thanks to 2-0 and 3-0 wins over Nigeria and Argentina respectively. They were worthy winners in those games, yet the main post-match talking points centred around, not the Croats’ credentials, but the ineptitude of their opponents.
Interestingly, the Eastern European outfit have averaged just 12.5 shots per-game – only the 15th most in the competition – fewer than the already homebound Peru and Morocco. They average only the 16th-most shots on-target per-game with 3.5 and the 17th most shots from inside the penalty area with six.
The Blazers don’t have lots of efforts at goal; their main strength is being able to manage games in different ways. The opening day win over Nigeria saw Modric and Ivan Rakitic distribute the ball superbly and tire out their opponents, but the 3-0 win over Argentina was a case of keeping their shape and taking chances ruthlessly.
Although Croatia are the third-highest scorers with five goals, four of them one could argue were helped hugely by awful opposition defending; the other being Modric’s wonderful strike against Argentina.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to put Zlatko Dalic’s side in the same category as Belgium and Russia, who purposefully sought more goals even when their games were won. Arguably the most impressive aspect of Croatia’s campaign so far is that they have only faced five shots on-target in the entire tournament.
Iceland need their comfort zone
Defensive jobs bring out the best in Iceland.
They earned lots of plaudits for their battling opening round performance against Argentina, in which they protected their penalty area superbly in a 1-1 draw. Interestingly though, they had just 142 touches in the opposing half throughout that match, which equates to 1.6 per-minute.
That’s a strikingly low number, considering the number of touches most teams need just to muster an effort at goal let alone create a decent chance.
In the 2-0 defeat to Nigeria, they had 232 touches in the opposition half (2.6 per-minute) and the performance was worse.
That tells us that this team – despite having so many admirable qualities – perhaps gets a small dose of altitude sickness when put in situations they aren’t used to.
Iceland are at their best when they’re either defending in numbers or attacking in numbers, because having lots of powerful, combative players in either penalty box gives them a huge advantage. Ask them to cleverly construct attacks without sacrificing their positional shape though and you will most likely be disappointed.
The betting angle
The first goal here could be crucial: we could see a scenario in which Iceland grab it and defend well for the rest of the game against a side playing without a major incentive.
Alternatively, it seems very plausible that Croatia, who only need a point to mathematically rubber-stamp top spot, protect what they have or manage a slender lead.