The Rostov boys Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason and Ragnar Sigurðsson have booby-trapped the pitch. Gylfi has been practising penalties night and day. Alfreð Finnbogason is primed to poach, Aron Gunnarsson is ready to annihilate and Ólafur Ingi Skúlason has been muttering maledictions. Our boys are back as underdogs; just how they like it, ready to bounce back from the brink. They need a win against Croatia and have to hope Argentina beat Nigeria by less goals to advance to the knockout stages. Here’s exactly how they’re going to do it.
Battleground: Rostov Arena
Smite time: 18:00
Horde News: Iceland
The way our boys churned through the gears against Nigeria could easily be blamed on the unaccustomed pressure of being “favourites”, the oppressive Volgograd heat or major tournament inexperience. The likeliest reason, however, is that they’ve outgrown former coach Lars Lagerbäck’s 4-4-2 system.
When deployed in recent matches, Heimir’s men have been extremely vulnerable on the counter attack; their lack of pace at the back and in central midfield exposed. Both Norway and Ghana exploited this in the warm-up friendlies, as did Ahmed Musa to devastating effect on Friday. As a result, Heimir will almost certainly revert to his default 4-5-1 formation tomorrow, which bore fruit against Argentina.
This tactical tweak will mean Emil Hallfreðsson comes back into the fray at the expense of Jón Daði Böðvarsson, who was one of the team’s best performers against Nigeria, while Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson will be pumped full of mead in the hope that he can play through the pain barrier of his calf muscle tear. Ragnar Sigurðsson is also a doubt following the blow he took to the head against Nigeria and he could be replaced by Sverrir Ingi Ingason.
But no matter who starts, Iceland will have to use the ball more effectively, be efficient in attack and maintain their trademark defensive steel to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stage. Do it for Iceland, boys. DEATH OR GLORY.
Zlatko Dalić’s side are all but through to the Round of 16 as group winners, so it is highly unlikely he’ll risk all of his star names in Rostov. Rotation of the squad, however, will not reduce Croatia’s determination to reassert their dominance over Iceland after losing 1-0 to Aron Einar’s Barmy Army in qualification. Luka Modrić and Dejan Lovren have both said as much in interviews in the last week, so any line-up put out by the Croatians cannot be taken lightly.
Their embarrassment of riches in midfield and attack allows them to rest Barcelona playmaker Ivan Rakitić and Juventus forward Mario Mandžukić, who are both on yellow cards, and bring in Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovačić and Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramarić; neither of whom made the starting eleven against Argentina. The defence, on the other hand, so often protected by generals Modrić and Rakitić, could be exposed by a break in the mifield’s rhythm. First choice centre-halves Lovren and Domagoj Vida both lack pace, and the former certainly has a penchant for calamity.
Again promisingly for our boys, The Blazers did not have to produce spectacular football to overcome Nigeria in their opening game. Ditto against Argentina, who were so pathetically set-up by coach Jorge Sampaoli that the players reportedly relinquished his decision-making responsibility post-match.
With their mettle yet to be truly tested, our boys could catch Dalić’s men sleeping tomorrow evening. In recent major tournaments, Croatia have always flattered to deceive and beneath their intimidating veneer, there is a soft belly prime for a gutting.
What’s written in the entrails?
This group has enormous character and many of the them will not get another chance at World Cup glory. Especially after the Nigeria game, they will be desperate to give a positive account of themselves and the big players will rise to the occasion. Gylfi will bounce back, putting in a spellbinding creative performance and Aron Gunnarsson will sacrifice mind and body for Icelandic victory.
Iceland 2 – 0 Croatia
How will the horde line-up?
Hannes Þór Halldórsson, Randers
Hörður Björgvin Magnússon, CSKA Moscow
Kári Árnason, Víkingur
Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Rostov
Birkir Már Sævarsson, Valur
Emil Hallfreðsson, Udinese
Aron Einar Gunnarsson, Cardiff
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Burnley
Birkir Bjarnason, Aston Villa
Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson, Everton
Alfreð Finnbogason, Augsburg
Ragnar Sigurðsson, Rostov
Ari Freyr Skúlason, Lokeren
Rúrik Gíslason, Sandhausen
Albert Guðmundsson, PSV
Jón Daði Böðvarsson, Reading
Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson, Rostov
How will Croatia line-up?
Lovre Kalinić, Gent
Ivan Strinić, AC Milan
Dejan Lovren, Liverpool
Domagoj Vida, Beşiktaş
Tin Jedvaj, Bayer Leverkusen
Mateo Kovačić, Real Madrid
Luka Modrić, Real Madrid
Milan Badelj, Fiorentina
Marko Pjaca, Juventus
Andrej Kramarić, Hoffenheim
Ivan Perišić, Inter Milan
Šime Vrsaljko, Atlético Madrid
Vedran Ćorluka, Lokomotiv Moscow
Ivan Rakitić, Barcelona
Marcelo Brozović, Inter Milan
Ante Rebić, Eintracht Frankfurt
Mario Mandžukić, Juventus