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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Miserly pair unlikely to give much away

Josh Magennis (left) will lead the line for Northern Ireland
1 of 1

International friendly
Premier Sports, 7.45pm

Most of Croatia’s household names have returned to their households making this friendly in Belfast tough to call.

The likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic played their parts in Saturday’s important 2-0 win against Iceland which took them to the top of World Cup Qualifying Group I, but none has travelled on to Northern Ireland.

Indeed, coach Ante Cacic is down to 16 outfield players so there will be an experimental feel to the visitors.

There is enough class up top in the likes of Mario Mandzukic, Andrej Kramaric and (if fit) Ivan Perisic, and key figures such as Domagoj Vida and Sime Vrsaljko in defence.


Key stat
Croatia have lost only one of their last 13 friendlies


But only six members of the squad have won more than eight caps.

Before you decide Croatia are too short on quality bodies to warrant an interest at 6-5, this is a team who are unbeaten in 13 friendlies, several of which were played without star names being involved. And they haven’t suffered a 90-minute loss in 15 matches, another record they will want to prolong.

On top of that, Michael O’Neill will want to give some of his stalwarts the night off following their 4-0 romp past Azerbaijan.


Team news
Northern Ireland
Keeper Michael McGovern picked up an injury against Azerbaijan. Jamie Ward, Conor Washington and Stuart Dallas were already crocked. Michael O’Neill will make changes.

Croatia
Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Nikola Kalinic, Vedrun Corluka and keeper Danijel Subasic have returned to their clubs and Ivan Perisic is a doubt


Yes, Northern Ireland are unbeaten in 11 at home and would dearly love to extend that record, but they too will be some way from full strength.

Croatia have had three wins to nil since their opening 1-1 draw against Turkey and Northern Ireland were every bit as impressive defensively in their whitewash of Azerbaijan on Friday evening.

With the pace dropped, the stakes lower and all eyes on a return to club football at the weekend, back under 1.5 goals at 7-4.

Recommendation
Under 1.5 goals
1pt 15-8 BetBright

Yes, Northern Ireland are unbeaten in 11 at home and would dearly love to extend that record, but they too will be some way from full strength
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