Surprise 2018 participants Iceland will play their third ever World Cup match against a familiar face in Croatia, a team they have faced on six prior occasions in qualification. A breakthrough first win over the Croatians at their home ground helped secure first place in their group and automatic progression at their European rivals’ expense, and they will come into this match looking to do likewise.
By this stage, both teams will have played tough matches against Group D favourites Argentina and a tough Nigerian side, and it is expected that there will be all to play for when the two European nations take the pitch. Given that Nigeria play against Argentina at the same time, there is a big chance that a win for either team here will see them leap into the Round of 16.
This is an intriguing matchup simply because both teams have very recent history, a rare commodity in international soccer. Each team recorded a win over the other in qualifying; both keeping a clean sheet on their home turf. On a neutral venue, the logical outcome is a draw, although Croatia boast a far more accomplished squad and should really be winning this matchup.
Context is always a factor in the third group stage matches. Croatia were our pre-tournament pick to qualify for the second round behind Argentina, and if all goes to plan they will have defeated Nigeria and lost to Argentina, meaning they will need to win this match to be absolutely certain of a place in the final sixteen.
Iceland on the other hand might not be in a position to progress, although a win here could potentially see them finish on three points alongside Nigeria and the Croatians. In short, both teams will almost certainly have it all to play for in this match.
On paper, it should be a straight forward victory for Croatia here, although the odds suggest it will be a close match. Croatia start as favourites, paying -119, while the draw is quite low at +250 and boosts the theory that this match will finish level. Iceland are the outsiders, although not miles out of contention at +333.
We’re going with Croatia to record the win necessary to propel them into the second round. Given that both nations are known for low-scoring matches, and have also produced five clean sheets between them in their six matches, we’re picking a 1-0 win.
When: Tuesday, Jun 26 (2pm ET)
Where: Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
TV: FS1, Telemundo*