Croatia and the Ukraine lock horns in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers this coming Friday.
This clash sees table-topping Croatia – 10 points – come up against a feisty Ukrainian side – 8 points. Ante Cacic’s star-studded Croatian side leads the way in Group I qualifying after three consecutive victories. Something of perennial underachievers on the big stage, the current incarnation of the Croatian national side is awash with stars playing for the biggest clubs in Europe.
Since taking over the reins of the national team, national footballing icon Andriy Shevchenko has managed to pick up some pleasing results for Ukraine. Currently unbeaten under the stewardship of Shevchenko, this will be their toughest trip so far as they aim to keep on the heels of Croatia.
Croatia v Ukraine | Friday 24 March | Stadion Maxsimir, Zagreb | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Croatia 5/10 | Draw 28/10 | Ukraine 6/1
Ivan Perisic will miss out this weekend after receiving a red card against Iceland. Napoli’s Marko Rog will likely come into the midfield for Perisic. Monaco’s Subasic has kept a clean sheet in three of the four qualification games thus far and has been a major factor in Cacic’s side.
Croatia have a decent enough defensive line-up, with Leverkusen’s Jedvaj bringing some broader European experience to a defensive system largely based in Croatia and Ukraine. But it is their sheer wealth of midfield and attacking options that will be making Shevchenko nervous.
Luka Modric has taken over from retired stalwart Dario Srna as the captain and alongside fellow Real Madrid midfielder, Kovacic makes for a highly creative and influential midfield nexus. Ivan Rakitic has come back from injuries that blighted the early part of his season and has been in excellent form for Barcelona.
Juventus striker Mario Mandukic is in devastating in front of goal and will likely be partnered by Fiorentina marksmen Kalinic. This Croatian team will feel confident that they can edge past a well-organized Ukrainian side.
Shevchenko has made some changes to the squad following their victory over Finland in November. Eduard Sobol is suspended for this match while Oleksiy Shevchenko has been replaced by Mykyta Shevchenko as the third choice goalkeeper.
Zorya’s Karavaev has also been dropped. Yevhen Seleznyov – having initially fallen out of favour with Shevchenko, has returned to the mix. Konopliyanka and Zozulya – both international mainstays – have barely played for their respective domestic squads and one wonders how effective they are likely to be for what is shaping to be a crucial encounter here.
Expect Sheva to go for 4-1-4-1 formation, with Stepanenko sweeping in front of the back four. Captain Ruslan Rotan and Zinchenko will try to provide some bite in midfield. They are going to have a tough time trying to contain the fluid and technically superior Croatian midfielders.
Yarmalenko is clearly the pivotal figure for this side. He is easily their best player, with creativity and an eye for goal. Both he and striker Kravets have scored three goals thus far in qualifying and the influential midfielder is going to need to dominate if Ukraine stand any chance of getting something out of this fixture.
Verdict: Matchbet + Both Teams to Score – Croatia + Yes 23/10
Currently sitting at 5/10 to win, there really isn’t too much value in backing Croatia and their wealth of stars. At 23/10, Both Teams to Score and Croatia to win looks a far better option. Croatia will dominate the game, but I expect Ukraine to have some opportunities on the counter-attack, and expect the brilliant Yarmolenko to feature prominently for the visiting side.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets