Croatia vs Greece by Isaiah
Croatia was drawn in pretty interesting and equal group together with Iceland, Ukraine and Turkey as biggest rivals, however with them standing out a bit in terms of quality in comparison to others, but the side only managed to take a second position in the end thanks to a 0:2 victory in last round over their rivals for second spot Ukraine in Kiev.
Must be said that they were bit lucky since the Ukrainians missed some important chances especially in the first halftime, while the Croats reached the three pointer thanks to goals from Kramaric in second halftime (62nd and 70th minute). The side ended up with two points less than Iceland, but surely did deserve to seek the chance in play-offs after all. They even changed the coach before the game in Kiev, showing obvious disappointment with how the things have gone so far for them, appointing Zlatko Dalic for a new national team coach.
In comparison to previous few call-ups, Croats won't be counting at defenders Tin Jedvaj (9/0, Leverkusen), but also at injured midfielders Milan Badelj (35/1, Fiorentina), Mateo Kovacic (37/1, Real Madrid) and forwards Duje Cop (12/2, Standard Liege) and Marko Pjaca (13/1, Juventus). Dejan Lovren is not at full fitness and may not be involved for all ninety minutes.
Greece, on the other side, were probably even in a more difficult situation when the draw for the qualifying groups happened, since they had to play against Belgium that stood out as the main favorite to win the group, but also against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus and Estonia as their more difficult opponents.
For the most of the phases, it was only a question if Greece or Bosnia will end up second, as the Greeks secured that position with a victory over Gibraltar in last round 4:0 finishing with nine points less than first placed Belgium and with two more than third placed Bosnia & Herzegovina. It was a one sided game against Gibraltar, which the Greeks won deservedly thanks to two goals from Mitroglou, one from Torosidis and one from Gianniotas.
In comparison to previous few call-ups, the side won't be counting at midfielder Petros Mantalos (18/2, AEK Athens) due injury, but also forward Tasos Donis (4/0, Stuttgart) also being out with a injury problem. Central back Kostas Manolas is suspended for the first game, with probably Sokratis and Papadopoulos making the heart of their defense.
- There have been over 2.5 goals scored in Greece's last 3 games (FIFA World Cup).
Greeks are coming into this match probably with an idea to try to steal a draw (probably a goalless one), while the Croats will surely try to explot the home advantage and get any kind of the lead ahead of the second leg. Another intense, physical and quite rough game is what I expect from both sides, especially from the Greek side which will do anything neccesary in order to walk away with as much as positive result. Scenario similar to the ones when they played against Bosnia or Belgium away during the qualifiers shouldn't surprise anyone.