Croatia and Iceland are actually familiar foes on the pitch.
Futbol and marriage
One of the first rules in journalism is to never lead off a story with a quote. But hey, rules are for breaking, right?
“We’ve often said we’re like a married couple. We’re trying to get divorced, but we always meet up again.”
That’s Iceland’s soccer coach Heimir Hallgrímsson speaking of his team’s next opponent: Croatia.
Croatia and Iceland have met four times in the last four years, including when Croatia ended Iceland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The teams also faced off in two qualifying events for the current World Cup in December 2016 and November 2017, with each team winning at home. Croatia won the first, 2-0, and Iceland won the latter, 1-0.
But Croatia will enter this match up almost like its a friendly, as it leads Group D play with six points after overpowering Argentina 3-0.
While Iceland can qualify from Group D, it needs a victory if it has a shot of making the knockout stage. Iceland has one point after a draw with Argentina. The squad then lost the next game to Nigeria when Ahmed Musa scored his team’s lone goals for a 2-0 win.
Red Cards and Instagram Followers
Want to know the thing about marriage? It’s not all Facebook wedding day photos and “best spouse in the world” posts. Sometimes, the two sides don’t get along.
And in the case of Iceland and Croatia, it’s an almost certainty. In fact, you may want to bet on which side will be handed a red card. (A yellow card is inevitable between these two.) But a red card has been handed out in three of the last four games.
If you’re keeping score at home, it’s Iceland 1, Croatia 2. Neither side drew one in their last meeting in November.
And it’s a good thing this match won’t be won by “number of recent Instagram followers.”
Because Icelandic winger Rúrik Gíslason would run away with the victory. The seemingly unknown soccer player stepped into the game against Argentina as a substitute for an injured teammate. Thirty minutes. That’s all it took for the world to make him a social media sensation due to his good looks.
Now his Instagram following has grown from about 30,000 to more than one million.
Will Croatia Concede?
Ok. Don’t get upset. We’re getting back to the actual results on the pitch. Croatia has secured its spot in the Round of 16.
If they don’t give up a goal to Iceland, Croatia would become the fourth team in World Cup history to win all three group games with shutouts.
As for Iceland’s future, some scenarios to consider:
If Croatia wins or draws, Iceland is sent home.
If Iceland wins, it all depends on what happens in Argentina vs. Nigeria.
If Nigeria defeats Argentina, Iceland is sent home.
If Argentina beats Nigeria (or draws), Iceland’s chances come down to goal differential.
Which all leads us to …
Who Will Walk off the Pitch Happy?
…expect some of Croatia’s best players to be rested.
In the last four years of their relationship, Iceland has only one happy memory: their 1-0 victory in November. In that match, they played a 4-5-1 formation. Against Nigeria they switched to a 4-4-2. Look for Iceland to revert back to their formation of old.
Since they’re already on to the Round of 16, expect some of Croatia’s best players to be rested.