Sunday 24 June 2018, 08:20

Sigurdsson sizes up a familiar foe

  • Iceland and Croatia have met four times in recent years

  • The fixtures have produced mixed results and three red cards

  • Sigurdsson: "They are one of the best in the world right now"

By Petur Hreinsson with Iceland

No cheers were heard in Iceland when the country was drawn in the same group as Croatia for Russia 2018. That mainly reflected a recognition of the Croatians' strength, but was also down to the frequency with which the two teams have met in recent years.

Indeed, when these sides meet on 26 June in Rostov-on-Don, it will be their fifth competitive match in roughly four-and-a-half years. And these games have not tended to be the friendliest of encounters, with three red cards shown across the four encounters.

Croatia have a better head-to-head record in those meetings, with two wins. Then again, Iceland did come out on top in the most recent encounter, on a sunny day in June of last year.

It was the Croatians who ended Iceland’s FIFA World Cup dream in 2013, triumphing in a play-off that ended with Icelandic players in tears on the Zagreb pitch. Iceland, however, topped its qualification group ahead of Croatia for this World Cup. So, does that give them an edge heading into this do-or-die Group D encounter?

“Yes and no," is the verdict of star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. "We know that they have one of the best national teams in the world right now, judging by their recent performances.

"I don’t think it will change anything that we’ve beaten them a year ago, or lost to them three years ago. It’s going to be a completely different match. But of course, it’s great that we’ve shown that we can beat them.

“They’re hard to break down and strong, both offensively and defensively. But we’ve got nothing to lose. It rests on us to get a good result, and then we’re hoping for a favourable result from the other match.”

In this respect, it's worth remembering that Iceland’s route to Russia was not without bumps in the road either. After a loss to Finland with three games in the qualifying campaign to spare, they had to rely on the results of other matches to qualify for their first ever World Cup.

Now, they must win against Croatia and hope that Argentina don't beat Nigeria by a bigger margin. “It has happened before," Sigurdsson reflected. "The most recent example is the game against Finland away. We were in a difficult situation at the time but, somehow, we always manage to fight back and do the almost-impossible. I hope that will be the case this time as well.

“It would be a fantastic achievement to qualify from this group," Sigurdsson added. "But simply being at the World Cup helps younger generations in Iceland. For them, being able to watch their own national team play at this tournament is amazing, and something I can’t really imagine because it was not like that when I was young. This experience can only be positive."