Two sides that failed to impress at the Euro 2016 finals are now vying for the first position in Group I of the European Zone of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Croatia are two points clear at the moment, but a serious injury crisis is threatening to derail their campaign and Ukraine will definitely be looking to take advantage of the opportunity.
Vatreni have done fairly well since much criticised Ante Cacic took over the reigns as it appears that the current squad is too good to be ruined by an incompetent boss.
Croatia eased off to a place in the Euro 2016 last 16 stage, defeating Turkey and Spain in the process, and they were pretty unfortunate to be eliminated by eventual winners Portugal.
Captain and team’s most capped player Darijo Srna has since decided to retire from the national team and his absence will be felt now that both Sime Vrsaljko and Vedran Corluka are out injured.
Having picked up 10 points from first 4 qualifiers, Croatia head into the Ukraine game high on confidence in spite of said injury issues and they have been made 1.53 (8/15) favourites to claim maximum points.
Liverpool stopper Dejan Lovren is also out injured, but the good news is that Dynamo Kiev’s Domagoj Vida is expected to be fit.
Star players Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic are all playing well at the moment and they will be heavily relied on against Ukraine.
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Subasic – Jedvaj, Vida, Mitrovic, Pivaric – Modric, Badelj – Brozovic, Rakitic, Pjaca – Mandzukic.
Ukraine were utterly disappointing at the Euro 2016 finals, missing a great opportunity to progress to the knockout stages as they suffered defeats in all group games.
What is more, Zbirna failed to score a single goal in the process, although we have to be fair and admit they produced a very good performance against Germany.
National team legend Andriy Shevchenko took over the reigns after the failure in France, and he has so far achieved decent results, even though many believe he should be doing even better.
Opening draws against Iceland and Turkey were followed by victories over Kosovo and Finland, while a friendly win over Serbia further improved the spirits.
Ukraine head into the Croatia game in good spirits, but they’ve got problems with several important players who are seeing little first team action on club level.
Karabukspor striker Yevhen Seleznyov has been recalled, but there was no place for Yevhen Khacheridi, Denis Garmash and Roman Bezus.
Probable starting line-up (4-5-1): Pyatov – Butko, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Matvienko – Zinchenko, Stepanenko, Kovalenko – Yarmolenko, Kravets, Konoplyanka.