Having been very unfortunate not to get more than one point from the first two qualifiers, FYR Macedonia have no choice but to try and win this game and thus return into contention for a place in Brazil. Croatia already have four points to their tally and given they are far from the desired form at the moment, the visitors would probably settle for one point from this match.
Impressive showings, poor results
FYR Macedonia were pretty disappointing during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, but the team have shown a considerable improvement since. Coach John Toshack was sacked despite the team holding Portugal and Angola to goalless draws away from home in May friendlies, with interim coach Goce Sedloski masterminding a friendly win over Lithuania. Given that Cedomir Janevski took over the reigns just ten days before the start of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, the Red Lions were not really expected to get anything from opening games at Croatia and Scotland. However, the team not only took one point from those matches, but managed to outplay both opponents despite playing away from home, meaning they will certainly have something to build on when they welcome Croatia to the packed Filip II Makedonski Stadium. Taking into account that the players are full of confidence following a nice string of performances, I am pretty sure FYR Macedonia will not lose this clash.
Stefan Spirovski is the only unavailable player at the moment, with Ostoja Stjepanovic called as a replacement.
Croatia in problems
Talented coach Slaven Bilic took Croatia to unimagined heights during the six years he spent managing the national team, so there are no doubts his decision to quit following team’s impressive showing at the Euro 2012 was a huge blow to the side. The national team chiefs caused a lot of controversy by appointing Igor Stimac in his place, a very inexperienced coach who is already showing he doesn’t have what it takes to lead a team packed with world-class players. Even if Croatia picked up four points from their first two games, their showings were pretty pathetic, and they needed a lot of luck and a big help from the referee to beat FYR Macedonia at home. With that in mind, I seriously doubt the Croats can fare any better in Skopje. In players like Modric, Madzukic and Jelavic, Vatreni have plenty of individual quality, but the problem is team spirit and good atmosphere are lacking.
Ivica Olic and Ivo Ilicevic miss out through injury, while boss Stimac is likely to leave Everton striker Nikica Jelavic on the bench.
Having already outclassed Croatia away from home, FYR Macedonia can be trusted to do something similar in front of their own fans. The mere fact Igor Stimac is pondering a defence-minded approach shows he is afraid of the opponents, which means the visitors would settle for one point from this match. All things considered, there is a great value in backing the hosts not to lose.
Our prediction: FYR Macedonia with +0.5 Asian handicap
Odds: 2.14 (8/7)