Croatia look to inspirational Modric in play-off against Greece

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Mitch Freeley

Croatia will be looking for inspiration from Real Madrid midfielder Luca Modric when they take on Greece in Zagreb on Thursday evening. Modric is expected to win his 102 cap for his country making him the fifth all time appearance maker for his side.

This will be second competitive match for manager Zlatko Dalić, who will be aiming for a repeat performance that saw Croatia beat Ukraine 2-0 to confirm their place in the play-offs.  One injury concern for Dalić will be central defender  Dejan Lovren, who is still recovering from injury. Lovern did get some minutes in Liverpool’s 4-1 win over West Ham and could start the match.

As for Greece they will be aiming for a solid result away from home to give them a realistic chance of qualifying for their third consecutive World Cup. German coach Michael Skibbe presided over a solid qualification campaign guiding the Greeks to a second place finish. Up front Skibbe will be relying on Marsille striker Konstantinos Mitroglou to trouble the Croatian defense. The former Fulham striker has two goals from four appearances in an injury hit season so far.

One absentee for the Greeks will be Roma defender Kostas Manolas who is suspended for the match. Hamburg central defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos is expected to cover.

Northern Ireland targeting first World Cup in thirty one years

  Northern Ireland                                                         

Northern Ireland will be aiming to reach their first World Cup since 1986, however Michael O’Neill’s side will have to navigate a tricky two legged tie against Switzerland.  Northern Ireland come into the match after two qualification defeats to Norway and Germany.

O’Neill is expected to stick with the same group of players who finished the qualification campaign. The West Brom central defensive duo of and Jonny Evans are expected to start at Winsor Park on Thursday evening. They will have to be at their very best  to stop a Swiss side who scored 23 times in qualification.

Whilst for Switzerland they missed out on their place in Russia 2018 by just goal difference to Portugal . Vladimir Petković’s side enjoyed a strong qualification campaign and have won ten of their last eleven matches, picking up  winning nine out of ten games.  Defensively the Swiss are doing well keeping seven clean sheets in the process.

Stoke midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to start, and the diminutive winger will be expected to deliver a moment of magic against a  Northern Ireland side that only conceded six goals throughout the qualification campaign.  

One key absentee for the Swiss will be former Arsenal  defender Johan Djourou, who has not made the squad for the game. Basel youngster Manuel Akanji is expected to  partner Fabian Schär in the center of defense.