Zagreb, March 18 (IANS) Croatia head coach Ante Cacic has called for good behavior from their home fans when the national football team takes on Ukraine for their 2018 World Cup qualifier at Maksimir Stadium on Friday.
It was two years ago that Croatia beat Norway 5-1 in the 2016 EURO qualifier at the same stadium in Zagreb with Niko Kovac as head coach, reports Xinhua news agency.
Since then, Cacic replaced Kovac and led the team through the qualifying campaign and the group stage of the tournament in France. Croatia was knocked out in Round of 16 after extra time by Portugal who later took the European title.
After beating Norway in March 2015, Croatia didn’t play another official qualifier at home. And Cacic will finally lead the team in front of the home fans, hoping the March 24 match will make all of them happy and his team will be five points ahead of Ukraine.
On Friday, Cacic announced his 23-man squad who will gather in Zagreb on Monday and try to beat Ukraine four days later at Maksimir Stadium.
“This is the best team we could assemble at this time,” Cacic said during the interview aired on Croatian national televison on Friday.
One notable absentee will be Inter Milan forward Ivan Perisic, Croatia’s best goalscorer in recent years, who will be out of the Ukraine clash due to his one-match suspension.
“This is why Croatia is such a strong team. We have the players that can replace Perisic and I hope that we will manage to cover his absence,” Cacic said.
However, Perisic will be in the Croatian team that will play a friendly match in Tallinn against Estonia on March 28, four days after hosting Ukraine in Zagreb.
After four of 10 qualifying rounds, Croatia has 10 points to lead the European Group I for 2018 World Cup in Russia, with two points over Ukraine, who beat Croatia only once in their seven previous matches, but never won in Croatia.
“They are playing great under Shevchenko’s guidance. They have their own style of play and if we are going to beat them, we will have to be at our best as we were in the previous matches,” said Cacic.
Statistics are heavily in favour of the Croatian team who are still unbeaten at the Maksimir Stadium for almost four years.
“It’s a great thing that we will have supporters on our side. I hope that they will behave good. I am convinced that they will be our 12th player and help us on the way to victory,” Cacic said.
The Croatian Football Federation just served a three-match ban, during which Croatia had to play qualifiers against Italy, Bulgaria and Turkey behind closed doors. Another fan related incident could end Croatian hopes of making it to the final tournament of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dinamo Zagreb), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Matej Mitrovic (Besiktas), Marko Leskovic (Dinamo Zagreb)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Marko Rog (Napoli), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka)
Strikers: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Juventus), Duje Cop (Sporting Gijon)
Reserves: Franko Andrijasevic (Rijeka), Mario Pasalic.