Two down and two to go, that’s the situation in Europe with eight teams involved in four tense, terrifying World Cup play-offs
CROATIA v GREECE
Plenty of talent and experience on thew one hand, solid defence on the other. This on paper could have been said before the first tie, but Greece’s defence was humiliated in Croatia. Croatia were disappointing in the group, but managed to demolish the Greeks in the first leg, showing that they have one of the best sides in Europe.
The likes of Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic are enough to scare any opponent. Striker Kostas Mitroglou will be the main man in the return leg, but now it seems impossible to see the Greeks at the World Cup.
A balanced clash as we saw in the first leg, although the Swiss have more experience and overall quality. Playing at Windsor Park in Belfast was tough, but Switzerland managed to get the crucial away goal albeit to a dubious penalty.
The Northern Irish that will try and use physical strength and hunger to get past the Swiss, but the task seems very difficult. Switzerland have players like Granit Xhaka, Sheridan Shaqiri, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Remo Freuler and Blerim Dzemaili: plenty of strength and quality, especially in the middle, where the match could be decided.
It’s unimaginable not to see four time winners Italy at the next World Cup.
The last – and only – time it happened was back in 1958. The Italians, though, are under tons of pressure and lack quality compared to past teams, although are still easily better than Sweden. The Swedes don’t have Zlatan Ibrahimovic anymore, and are a pragmatic side, very “methodical”, as Gianluigi Buffon defined them: they know what to do and execute it well.
Italy can count on Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, all were in the latest Champions League final, as well as the likes of Ciro Immobile (top goalscorer in Europe at the moment), Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne. It would be a huge blow for Italy not to qualify.
— Italy (@azzurri) November 9, 2017
DENMARK-REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
After qualifying to the play-offs in Cardiff, Ireland are ready to do anything to get to Russia. It’s the class of Christian Eriksen against the organisation and will of the Irish, who have in Martin O’Neill the brains behind it all.
The coach has demonstrated tactical knowledge and motivational skills to get his team going. A draw in Denmark and then a battle in Dublin could be the ideal situation to make it work. Jeff Hendrick is slightly injured, and ten men in the squad would miss the second leg with a yellow picked up in the first clash.
Concentration and brightness will be key, as the Danes can count on the experience of Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Simon Kjaer in defence and the freshness of Kasper Dolberg and Andreas Cornelius up front.
PREDICTION: Republic of Ireland