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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Classy Croatia unlikely to slip up against Greece

Another finals berth beckons for Dalic's diamonds

Luka Modric (right) is a class act in midfield for Croatia
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World Cup qualification playoff first leg
Sky Sports Mix, 7.45pm Thursday

Croatia have qualified for the finals of seven of the last eight major tournaments and they can move to the brink of qualification for World Cup 2018 by posting a comfortable home win over Greece in the first leg of their playoff.

Missing out on automatic qualification was a major disappointment for Croatia, who possess plenty of talent and have the potential to be contenders for the trophy.

But they were in a tricky Group I alongside IcelandUkraine and Turkey, who were fellow qualifiers for Euro 2014.

There were rumours of discontent in the camp and the players have responded since last month's move to replace Ante Cacic with Zlatko Dalic as head coach.

Dalic's first game was a crucial qualifier away to Ukraine but they put in a superb performance to earn a 2-0 victory which sealed a place in the playoffs.

Coming through such a high-stakes game should do Croatia a power of good and they deserve their status as long odds-on favourites to defeat the defensive-minded Greeks, who are the lowest-ranked team (47th in the Fifa list) in the European playoffs.

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Greece can be a tough side to break down thanks to top-notch centre-backs Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas, who play for Champions League clubs Borussia Dortmund and Roma. However, Manolas is suspended for the first leg.

Greece are short of quality further forward and are likely to be dominated by a classy Croatia side featuring outstanding midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Croatia will want to build a big advantage before Sunday's trip to Athens and can go there with a minimum two-goal lead under their belts.

Croatia -1 on Asian handicap
1pt 39-50 bet365

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Team news

The home side are without injured quartet Tin Jedvaj, Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovacic and Vedran Corluka. Dejan Lovren is available after a minor injury. Mario Mandzukic (hamstring) is a doubt.

Winger Petros Mantalos is injured and centre-back Kostas Manolas is suspended.

Key stat 
Croatia are unbeaten in their last 17 home fixtures.

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Croatia are unbeaten in their last 17 home fixtures
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