The football authorities will be watching with bated breath on Friday, as Croatia face Serbia for the first time as independent nations since the Balkan conflict that tore Yugoslavia apart.
Predictably, the talk surrounding this match is focused on more than merely football, but the encounter’s significance on the pitch is not to be underestimated.
Victory for the hosts would see them move nine points clear of their neighbours and closer to a guaranteed chance of progression to Brazil 2014, and they are favourites at 8/11 (1.73) with William Hill to do just that.
On the other hand, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men probably need all three points in order to have any hope of World Cup qualification, but they are up against it at 4/1 (5.00) to emerge victorious.
You can get odds of 5/2 (3.50) on this one finishing up in a draw that would probably satisfy neither side.
Although Serbia may be the more sizeable of the two nations, their national team have been left in the shadow of their Croatian neighbours in recent years.
Luka Modric and Co. have become admired as one of Europe’s most feared football sides, while their counterparts are currently struggling through a transition period.
While Igor Stimac’s men are unbeaten in joint-first place in Group A, The White Eagles have lost their last two competitive games, and their young side should be no match for a team that have lost just once in 47 qualifiers on home soil since independence.
All in all, that price of 8/11 (1.73) looks rather generous for a home win, and should not be ignored.
The man most likely to do the damage for the hosts is surely Mario Mandzukic, who has scored 15 goals in 20 Bundesliga matches for Bayern Munich this season.
The striker really rose to prominence after finishing as joint-top scorer at Euro 2012, and has recently been named as his country’s Player of the Year.
Having opened the scoring in each of his side’s last two games, the red hot forward looks like a decent bet at 7/2 (4.50) to do so again in this match.
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|Croatia to win at 8/11 (1.73) with William Hill
||Mario Mandzukic to score first at 7/2 (4.50) with William Hill
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Al Hain-Cole is a Liverpool fan, experienced tipster and avid follower of European football. He specialises in accumulators and if you would like to read more from Al you can follow him on Twitter here.