Fresh from their meeting in the group stages of Euro 2016 and subsequent disappointing exits from the competition, Croatia and Turkey start a new chapter by going head to head in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying Group I opener at Maksimir stadium.
New captain, new beginning
Croatia have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the recently finished European Championship in France. Having been pitted against the likes of Spain, Czech Republic, Euro 2016 winners Portugal and their forthcoming rivals Turkey, Ante Cacic’s men were not being given too many chances of securing their place in the knockout stages. Inspired performances and quality displays have however led Croatia to memorable wins over Spain and Turkey, and a 2-2 stalemate against the Czech which was enough to see Vatreni secure their passage to the last 16. Their Euro 2016 campaign came to an emotionally overwhelming halt at the hands of ultimate winners Portugal, who triumphed after extra time thanks to a goal from Ricardo Quaresma. The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers are the new beginning for Croatia who are preparing to welcome Turkey with Real Madrid star Luka Modric as their new captain. Cacic’s men wil welcome Turkey in empty stadium following FIFA’s two-match ban for repeated fascist chanting by their fans, which can be a slight disadvantage for the home team.
Long-serving Croatia captain Darijo Srna retired from international football after Euro 2016 and will be one of the most prominent absentees in Ante Cacic’s team. Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren has been recalled to the squad, while Gordon Schildenfeld and Alen Halilovic are the two omissions compared to Euro 2016 squad list. Josip Pivaric has picked up an injury and will miss the Turkey match as well.
Where is Arda?
Turkish football loving public has been stunned by Fatih Terim’s decision to leave Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan from the squad ahead of the friendly international with Russia and the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying opener at Croatia. Turan has been largely criticised for his Euro 2016 performances, but despite his improved form at the beginning of the new season he was left out of the squad. The experienced manager sent a clear statement following Turkey’s disappointing Euro 2016 campaign by calling up no less than 10 players from the under-21 side. Fatih Terim has been continually stressing the importance of bringing through youth players into the national team and it appears that the latest squad is merely a reflection of that thinking as Turkey stand at the crossroads. The long road to Russia got off to an inauspicious start for the Milli who were involved in a largely forgettable friendly goalless draw against the 2018 FIFA World Cup hosts during the week. It was not the start Terim had hoped for prior to an important trip to Zagreb and he will need to make some last-gasp adjustments and do some fine tuning in order for his team to stand any chance against Vatreni.
In addition to Arda Turan, the likes of Burak Yilmaz, Selcuk Sahin, Hakan Balta, Caner Erkin and Gokhan Gonul were all left out of the squad. Having missed the Russia match during the week Cengiz Under and Salih Ucan are both expected to be involved against Croatia.
Croatia national team is a more quality side at the moment, an experienced group of quality players more than capable of dispatching the rejuvenated Turkey at their Maksimir stadium. Fatih Terim has wielded the axe and could need some time to get all pieces of the puzzle back together, so we see great value in betting on hosts to win their opening 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
Top pick: Croatia 1.75 (4/7) @WilliamHill
Alternative pick 1: Croatia / Croatia 2.55 (31/20) @Coral
Alternative pick 2: Both teams to score – No 1.7 (7/10) @BetVictor