September 6th, 2015; 16:00 GMT
Croatia take on Norway at Oslo in the Group H qualifier for next year’s Euros scheduled to be held in France.
The previous leg of the qualifier was held in Zagreb in March where the home side walked comfortably to a win as they put 5 goals past a hapless Norway in a game that ended 5-1.
Croatia sit on top of the table with 15 points but Norway are not far behind and are third in the group with 13 points.
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Coach Per-Mathias HA?gmo acknowledged that there was more pressure on Norway against Bulgaria and a win at Sofia has put the side at comparative ease but the team wants to get a win for their supporters.
Norway are the underdogs for this game but have plenty going for them at the moment. They have been improving constantly and come into this game on the back of a 0-1 win over Bulgaria. Veteran defender Vegard Forrena s goal gave Norway the points needed to stay in the running. They will be hoping to exact revenge on Croatia for the 5-1 mauling they suffered in Croatia earlier this year. A win in this game will put them in an automatic qualifying spot and see them level on points with Italy. What could worry coach Per-Mathias HA?gmo is the side’s home form. Norway have won only 1 of their last 5 home games.
In case Per Ciljan Skjelbred doesn’t return to the team, second in command Tom HA?gli is expected to captain the side. HA?gmo is likely to make some changes for this game. It will be interesting to see if Real Madrid starlet Martin Odegaard can get a start for this tough match. Red Bull Salzburg’s Valon Berisha, often regarded as one of the biggest talents in Norwegian football, was not used in the previous match and the 22-year-old could be poised to feature in this game. Celtic’s attacking midfielder Stefan Johansen could be an important player for Norway this time.
Norway should look to put men behind in defence, park the bus if you will, and hit Croatia on the counter attack. Kovac’s men found it tough to break down Azerbaijan recently and this tactic may work for the home side. Even a draw against Croatia who were ranked 14th in the recent FIFA ratings will be considered a wonderful result for the Scandinavian side.
Croatia come into this game on the back of a disappointing draw against Azerbaijan where they really should have won. Mario Mandzukic was guilty of not converting a number of chances, but he wasn’t alone in letting Kovac down. The team looked very threatening early on but Croatia lost their grip on the match after the break.
There is immense pressure on Mandzukic and at the moment, he looks like a shadow of his Bayern Munich self. The striker needs to fire and fire quickly. The likes of Modric, Rakitic and Perisic are creating opportunities, but they currently lack a striker who can quickly punish defences and this can really cost the side.
Kovac will be facing some heat too, as his side is yet to learn the art of breaking through tough defences and chances of Norway sitting in defence is high. The former captain has been guilty of not diversifying his tactics and being one dimensional and predictable in his approach. He might need something different and special in this game. The fact that the side currently lacks a quality winger is also slightly concerning and might hinder their progress. Alen Halilovic is an option but it would be asking too much of the young, lanky player to deliver instantly. He could however, play a super-sub role for his team.
Even though a draw would likely secure qualification for Croatia, a win is what should be demanded from a side that boasts of such quality players.
- The two sides have faced each other on four occasions in the past. Norway have drawn once while Croatia has won the remaining three games.
- Barring the game against Italy (June), Mandzukic hasna t scored in a competitive club or international game since February 21st against Almeria.
The Croatian midfielder is arguably the most influential player for the country. The Real Madrid player will orchestrate things from the middle along with Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic. He created a gorgeous chance for Mandzukic in the previous game and similar things are expected by the former Spurs player in this match as well.
Norway 0 Croatia 2
Despite the previous underwhelming result, Kovac’s men remain the strong favorites for the game and are likely to see Norway off with ease.