Croatia completed their September World Cup qualifiers with the victory against Slovenia (3:0) at Poljud on Tuesday, winning seven out of nine points. In the last six days, all three games were played against the main competitors for direct placement in the 2022 World Cup, reports Index.hr.
Croatia must finish the qualifications at the top of the group to directly qualify for the World Cup. Recall, finishing second leads to the most difficult additional qualifications for the World Cup in history. It is important to emphasize that these qualifications for the World Cup are completely different from all others so far. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schedule is condensed, so the European part of the World Cup qualifiers is played across eight months, instead of the previous one and a half years. Namely, Qualifications run from March to November this year.
Furthermore, only ten group winners will secure a spot at the World Cup, while ten runners-up will play additional qualifiers. Thus, two winners of the 2020/21 Nations League groups will join those national teams, but only those who did not directly qualify for the World Cup and did not secure additional qualifications as runners-up in the World Cup qualifying groups.
Unlike in the past, during these additional World Cup qualifiers, the national teams will be divided into three groups. Only one knockout match will be played to define which three European national teams ensure their spot at the 2022 World Cup.
Four games before the end, it is clear that Croatia and Russia will decide the winner of the group. Both national teams have 13 points, and one goal only divides them.
Before the qualifications, coach Zlatko Dalić said that he thinks 20 or 21 points will be enough for first place in the group. However, Croatia could again finish in the additional qualifications with 20 points, just like for the 2018 World Cup, when Croatia overcame Greece.
Apart from Croatia, Denmark also went to the playoffs with 20 points, but it is worth noting that in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, Portugal and Ukraine went to the playoffs, even though they had 21 points each. So Dalić’s calculation should not be taken as relevant.
Croatia has 13 points after six games, and by the end of this part of the qualification, four more games will be played from October 8 to November 14.
If Croatia, as expected, beats the two weakest national teams, Cyprus and Malta, it would have 19 points. Still, the decision will fall in Osijek and Split against the significantly stronger Slovakia and Russia. A mitigating circumstance for Croatia is that they play against both national teams at home.
Until the end, Russia’s schedule and results will be equally important to Croatia, and the derby will decide the winner of the group in the last round, Croatia – Russia at Poljud
Croatia’s schedule until the end of the World Cup qualifiers:
October 8: Cyprus – Croatia
October 11: CROATIA – Slovakia
November 11: Malta – Croatia
November 14: CROATIA – Russia
Russia’s schedule until the end of the World Cup qualifiers:
October 8: Russia – Slovakia
October 11: Slovenia – Russia
November 11: Russia – Cyprus
November 14: Croatia – Russia
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