Zagreb, Aug 28 (IANS) Ante Cacic, the head coach of Croatia’s football team, said here on Monday ahead of the clashes with Kosovo and Turkey that his side is still at the top of the 2018 World Cup qualifying group and promised to show quality in the four remaining matches.
Croatia saw their comfortable lead cut in the last qualifying match played in June in Iceland, where Cacic’s squad suffered its first defeat in the 2018 qualifying campaign, reports Xinhua news agency.
After six of 10 scheduled matches, Croatia and Iceland are tied on top of the group with 13 points each, but the Croatian team had a head-to-head advantage on goal-difference.
On September 2, Croatia will host Kosovo at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb and will be heavily favored to win three points. After that the road gets tougher for the team, headed by Real Madrid star Luka Modric. Croatia will travel to Turkey on Sept. 5, host Finland on Oct. 6 and travel to Ukraine for the final round of group matches.
Only the best team in each of nine groups will qualify from Europe for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the eight best second-placed teams will have to battle for the four remaining places in the playoffs that will take place in November.
“We still have some injured key players but I am confident that our team have quality and that will show it during the next 45 days and four remaining matches,” Cacic said on Monday when he revealed that new AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic is not in his plan for the game against Kosovo because he hasn’t yet reached his optimal shape after a two-month long transfer saga from Fiorentina.
However, Cacic believes that he will have a stronger team, both physically and mentally, than the one that was beaten in Iceland in June.
“Players are now fresh and more eager to reach our goal than it was the case in June when they were tired and at the end of a very long season. We had players who came directly from the Champions League final,” Cacic pointed out.
When he revealed his list of footballers for the upcoming matches with Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric’s name on it, many Croatian fans breathed a big sigh of relief as speculations about his possible premature retirement from national duties ended up being false alarms.
“Luka Modric is our captain, the world’s best midfielder, and he is a proud Croatian. He was never going to leave his national team this way, especially as its captain.”
With Modric and his up-and-coming Real Madrid teammate Mateo Kovacic in great form, alongside midfielder Ivan Rakitic from FC Barcelona, Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic and with Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic also showing brilliance, it seems that Croatia have enough firepower to stay at the top of the group and take their place among the 32 national teams that will compete for the World Cup trophy next year.
Post Source: Ians feed