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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Ukraine may pip classy Croatia to second spot

Free-flowing visitors look vulnerable favourites for tough road trip

Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko is a potent attacking threat
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Football lovers everywhere should be cheering on Croatia in their bid to qualify for the World Cup finals but punters may be better off looking at their opponents Ukraine in a do-or-die crunch clash.

The winners of the fixture will finish second in Group I (assuming that table-toppers Iceland beat minnows Kosovo at home) and it is difficult to have Croatia as favourites for such a tough road encounter.

At their best Croatia are a wonderful side to watch with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pulling the strings from midfield, but their only victory in the last four qualifiers came in a 1-0 home success against Kosovo.

Croatia were beaten 1-0 in Turkey and Iceland which has helped to put them in this mess and Friday's 1-1 home draw with Finland saw coach Ante Cacic sacked.

Croatia will look to Luca Modric to pull the strings

Vedran Corluka, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Nikola Kalinic and Marko Pjaca are all injured and there is a major doubt over the participation of striker Mario Mandzukic, who has travelled despite initial fears of a serious ankle problem.

Ukraine have won seven of their last nine home competitive matches and possess three genuine attacking threats in Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian-born Marlos. 

It's by far the most interesting encounter aside from Wales v Ireland with a number of dead-rubbers taking place on the continent in the final round of fixtures in Groups D, G and I.

Italy are already assured of second spot in Group G but could be more focused than normal in their trip to Albania as they look to secure a seeding for the two-legged November playoffs.

1pt 9-5 general

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Ukraine have won seven of their last nine home competitive matches and possess genuine attacking threats
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