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WC Qualification Europe
November 15, 2013
• 2:00 PM
• Laugardalsvöllur, Reykjavík
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
• Attendance: 9768
Croatia must reflect on their lack of potency in the attacking third, though if you had offered that result to Niko Kovac before the match I'm sure he would have taken it. Despite not scoring they will now be the favourites to progress to Brazil. I'll be back for the second leg on Tuesday, but for now I've been Tom Maston and thanks for joining me.
The referee blows the full time whistle and ten-man Iceland have held out for a 0-0 draw. They still have to go to Zagreb, but their World Cup dream is still very much alive after a battling display, especially in defence.
90' + 1'
Modric looks to do it himself but after showing some nice footwork his effort from 25 yards is always curling away from the goal. Just seconds now for Iceland to hold out.
Just two minutes of stoppage time for the deadlock to be broken...
Croatia building for one last assault on the home goal. An away goal would be huge now.
Third and final change for Croatia as Benko replaces the disappointing Mandzukic. In truth he has been lucky to last this long given his performance.
Every Iceland player is inside their own half as they look to see out these final few minutes. Croatia struggling to find a way through despite all their creative players.
SO CLOSE! Finally Mandzukic gets involved as Rakitic's ball finds the striker, who in turn nods it into Perisic's path. The winger opts for a first time effort that flies inches wide of the right-hand post.
Pletikosa holds on the delivery well and Croatia can clear their lines.
Sigurdsson's delivery is excellent and Simunic does well to get back into his own six-yard box to clear. Gudjohnsen has since won a corner...
Gislason has done well since coming on and he wins a free-kick in a dangerous position after his initial shot from distance is blocked...
Still plenty of pressing from Croatia but they are being frustrated at present by the excellent Iceland defence. The visitors know a goal now would be massive in this tie.
Rakitic's effort is straight at the wall and Iceland can breath again. Can they hold out for a draw?
Heading into the final 15 minutes as Croatia have a chance as Perisic wins a free-kick on the edge of the area from Bjarnason...
Light relief for the hosts as Gislason runs the ball out of defence and draws a foul. Change for the visitors as Eduardo is replaced by Rebic.
Halldorsson remains unbeatable at present as Rakitic tries his luck with a powerful strike from 25 yards. The goalkeeper gets his body behind it and gathers at the second attempt. A delightful backheel from Modric in the build-up to that one.
Iceland have been camped inside their own half for pretty much the whole of the last 20 minutes since going down to ten men, but are defending manfully at present. It is credit to Sigurdsson and Arnason that Mandzukic hasn't had a sniff of goal.
Speculative effort from Srna who looks to try and surprise Halldorsson from all of 40 yards. The shot is weak though and goalkeeper can collect under little pressure.
Opportunity for Croatia as Modric wins a free-kick in a dangerous area, but Rakitic's delivery is on this occasion lacking and the ball is cleared.
Change for Iceland as Finnbogason is replaced Gislason.
Olic has certainly been effective since his introduction, and he again finds himself in room on the right-hand side. After cutting onto his left foot he looks to deliver a cross but Sigurdsson does well to head clear.
The remaining Skulason on the pitch is lucky to get away with a mistimed jump as Perisic's cross flies over him. Fortunately for the home side Olic isn't expecting the ball and it bounces off his head and out for a goal kick.
Despite no longer being up against Skulason, Perisic is still getting plenty of the ball on the left. This time he looks for Mandzukic in the middle but his cross is too heavy and trickles out for a throw on the opposite side of the pitch.
SUPER SAVE! Halldorsson is in inspired form as he yet again denies Croatia. Eduardo is this time the architect as his low ball into the box finds Olic, and the strikers first time is effort is a good one. The goalkeeper shows excellent reactions to keep it out with his right hand, however.
GOOD SAVE! Halldorsson is keeping the hosts level at present as he saves well again, this time from Perisic. The winger finds himself in plenty of room in the box but his low effort is saved well by the goalkeeper.
Confidence is starting to ooze through the visitors now with their numerical advantage, and Olic is the latest to try his luck with a curling effort from distance. Halldorsson is equal to it though and holds on.
Eduardo is the man to strike the resulting free-kick, but his powerful effort is too close to Halldorsson and is beaten away by the goalkeeper. Croatia heavy favourites now.
Red Card Olafur Ingi Skulason
RED CARD! Disaster for Iceland as Skulason is given his marching orders after pulling back Perisic as the winger bore down on goal. Rakitic's sumptious ball creates the opportunity and the full-back can have no complaints with the decision.
Decent opportunity for the hosts as Modric gives the ball away inside his own half, and after a lovely turn and pass from Gudjohnsen, Finnbogason fires over from the edge of the box.
Good start from the visitors as Perisic again finds room on the left. His cross is again too close to Halldorsson and the goalkeeper holds on well.
Eidur Smari Gudjohnsen
The teams are ready and Iceland kick-off the second period. Croatia have also made a change with Olic replacing Ilicevic.
As I type Croatia make their way back onto the field followed closely by the hosts. As expected Gudjohnsen is going to come on as a replacement for the striken Sigthorsson. Big cheer for the veteran forward from the crowd.
Not long now until the start of the second half, and the stadium announcer in Reykjevik is whipping up a storm with as he lead the supporters in a Mexican wave. No sign of the two teams as yet.
The passing has certainly been good from both teams, but there has been little in the way of goalmouth action. Will former Barcelona and Chelsea man Gudjohnsen make a difference? Find out when we return after the break.
The referee's whistle blows and Gudjohnsen will have to wait to make his arrival after the break. Croatia will be the happier of the two sides after a slow burner of a first half.
Just a sole minute of stoppage time, and Gudjohnsen is ready to come on as it seems Sighthorsson will not continue.
Big worry here for Iceland as Sigthorsson is down in some pain. The striker picked up the ball on the halfway line before making his way to the edge of the box, but just as he looked to pull the trigger he rolled his ankle in the turf and has now been stretchered off. One feels he will have half-time to try recover.
Into the last couple of minutes before the break and the ball remains almost locked exclusively in the middle of the pitch. A goal before half-time seems unlikely.
At last a shot on target after Gunnarsson gives the ball away in midfield. Perisic is the man who picks it up and heads goalwards, but his long range shot is straight at Halldorsson and the goalkeeper holds on.
Heading into the final minutes of the first half as both sides continue to try and break the deadlock, though neither goalkeeper has had to make a save as yet.. Unsurprising given what is at stake that there has been little in the way of enterprising attacking play.
Some concern for Croatia as Pranjic stays down after a challenge from Gudmundsson. The stretcher is originally brought on but the full-back is back on his feet and is able to continue.
More good possession from Croatia without really looking like they are going to create a goalscoring opportunity. Kovac will nevertheless be happy with the performance of his players so far.
Sigurdsson is the man to deliver it but it is too deep and Corluka can head clear under no pressure whatsoever. Still much better from the home side in the last few minutes.
Another chance for Iceland to get the ball into the box as Eduardo fouls Gunarsson inside the Croatia half.
Gylfi Sigurdsson makes his first real impact on the game as he takes two Croatia players out of the game before feeding Skulason on the left. His cross is a deep one towards Gudmundsson, but the midfielder's ball back across is sliced and can be cleared easily.
A brief moment of respite for Iceland as Modric is penalised for handball near the halfway line. The home side are working hard enough but cannot get their foot on the ball at present.
While Modric is looking in the mood the same cannot be said for Bayern Munich's Mandzukic. The striker has barely had a touch in the first quarter of the match as much of the play takes place in the middle third of the pitch.
Modric is certainly seeing more of the ball as Croatia continue to dominate possession. When the midfielder is on song then Kovac's team are certainly a better side.
Croatia have certainly developed some control in the last few minutes, though their passing is yet to trouble Iceland sufficiently. The visitors do manage a shot, though, but Perisic's effort from distance is wayward.
Perisic has arguably looked the most dangerous player for Croatia so far, with the visitors keen to get him one-on-one against Skulason on the left. The winger wins a corner from the full-back, but good defending sees it cleared.
Little in the way of goalmouth action at present after what was a slightly frantic opening. Both teams looking to feel each other out as the supporters continue to create a superb atmosphere.
Croatia are struggling to get Modric on the ball as much as they would like, though the Real Madrid man has not been good in possession thus far. Two quickfire misplaced passes are testament to that.
Plenty of crosses have already been sent into the Iceland box, but so far Halldorsson has held onto everything. Perisic is the latest to swing one in looking for Mandzukic but the goalkeeper gets up well to collect.
Sighthorsson is a little fortunate not to go into the Spanish referee's book after a late challenge on Rakitic. The official showing some leniency given the occasion.
The home fans are really looking to drive their side on in these opening stages as they look to make plenty of noise. With the small stadium and buoyant crowd this match already has something of an old fashioned cup tie about it. Still 0-0.
Almost a sight of goal for Iceland as Sighthorsson looks to set Gudmundsson free in the box, but Simunic does well to come across and deal with the danger.
Despite that early let-off Iceland have settled well and are showing plenty of attacking intent. Sighthorsson is looking to run the channels and looks dangerous when he gets on the ball.
OFF THE LINE! Almost the perfect start to the Kovac reign as Iceland are slow to react at the back. Some good build-up play from Croatia leads to Eduardo getting in behind, and though his shot is weak it beats Haldorsson, only for Sigurdsson to clear off the line.
Croatia kick-off and we are underway...
A great atmosphere inside the stadium as kick-off movrs ever closer. The players are almost ready for this massive World Cup qualifier.
The two teams have made their way onto the field in front of a capacity 10,000 crowd and the respective national anthems are being played. Plenty of supporters from Croatia have made the trip as they look for a change of fortunes under their new coach.
There are just over five minutes until kick-off and the two teams are in the tunnel ahead of what is arguably the biggest night ever for Icelanic football. Victory here may well be enough to see them booking flights for Brazil this summer.
So no place for Eidur Gudjohnsen in the Iceland starting line-up, with Ajax's Kolbeinn Sigthorsson preferred up front. For Croatia, Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic both start in a highly-experienced eleven.
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna, Ilicevic, Perisic, Simunic, Corluka, Pranjic, Modric, Mandzukic, Eduardo, Rakitic.
Iceland: Halldorsson, O. Skulason, A. Skulason, G, Sigurdsson, Arnason, R, Sigurdsson, Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, Sigthorsson, Finnbogason, Bjarnason.
Before we go any further, the two starting line-ups have been announced...
Tonight's fixture also marks a first in Icelandic football as it will be the first to be played on grass so late in the year. Dipping temperatures in Reykjevik usually mean home matches on turf are impossible, but after covering the pitch at Laugardalsvollur with a special heat-pumping fabric the match can go ahead at the 10,000 seater stadium.
Croatia head into this one in some turmoil after coach Igor Stimac was sacked at the end of the group stage. His side have won just once since March, and have been victorious in just two competitive fixtures in 2013. Former captain Niko Kovac has taken interim charge of the side, and he will be hoping he can immediate effect on what is still a talented group of players.
Lars Lagerback is the coach who guided Iceland to second place in Group E behind runaway leaders Switzerland, and with the likes of Tottenham's Gylfi Sigurdsson and veteran striker Eidur Gudjohnsen within their ranks they have as good a chance as anyone. If they do win out over two legs, it will be Lagerback's fourth World Cup as a manager and may well prove to be his greatest achievement.
Hello and welcome to live coverage of Iceland's historic World Cup qualifying play-off first leg against Croatia. The home side are looking to qualify for their first World Cup and in the process become the smallest country to reach the tournament proper in its history. In their way are Croatia, an ever-present in the group stage since their own debut in 1998, but after a poor run of form they are arguably the underdogs this evening. I'm Tom Maston and I'll be guiding you through events in Reykjavik this evening.
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