World Cup Qualifying – Ukraine at Croatia 2:45 PM ET Saturday June 6, 2009
By Jason Green at Predictem.com
On Saturday night at the Stadion Maksimir in the Croatian capital of Zagreb Croatia hosts Ukraine in a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. Croatia has the chance to, pretty much, assure a berth in the World Cup in South Africa next summer if they can win this home match. Ukraine has to take at least 1 point from this match in order to keep their World Cup hopes alive. This is the case even though Ukraine has played 1 less match in group play then Croatia.
England is running away with Group 6, as they have 15 points followed by Croatia with 10 points and Ukraine with 7 points. This group is considered the Group of Death, as all of these teams not only made it to the last World Cup, Ukraine made it to the semifinals, but they are all ranked in the top 19 in the world. According to FIFA rankings England ranks 6th, Croatia ranks 8th, and Ukraine ranks 19th.
Ukraine not only has to deal with a stacked Croatian team, but they have to deal with the hostile fans in Zagreb. Croatia has some of the craziest soccer fans on the planet and in a recent poll the biggest soccer hooligans in the world are the Bad Blue Boys, who follow Dynamo Zagreb the best team in the Croatian League. Hell, I got thrown in Croatian jail for wearing an opposing team’s t-shirt in a league match.
Croatia is favored in this match pasted at 1.75 and Ukraine is the underdogs posted at 4.30 with a draw at 3.30.
Ukraine Recent Form:
4/1/2009 England 2 Ukraine 1 (WC Qualifying)
2/11/ 2009 Serbia 0 Ukraine 1 (Friendly)
2/10/2009 Ukraine 3 Slovakia 2 (Friendly)
11/19/2008 Ukraine 1 Norway 0 (Friendly)
10/11/2008 Ukraine 0 Croatia 0 (WC Qualifying)
Croatia Recent Form:
4/1/2009 Andorra 0 Croatia 2 (WC Qualifying)
2/11/2009 Romania 1 Croatia 2 (Friendly)
10/15/2008 Croatia 4 Andorra 0 (WC Qualifying)
10/11/2008 Ukraine 0 Croatia (WC Qualifying)
9/10/2008 Croatia 1 England 4 (WC Qualifying)
Krizanac, Sablic, and Arsenal forward Eduardo will not play in the match due to injuries. Ivica Olic and Robert Kovac have minor injuries, but should play in this match and Niko Kranjcar is also finally match fit, which is a sigh of relief for the Croats. For Ukraine striker Milevsky is out due to injury.
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Croatia have played 3 World Cup Qualifying matches at Maksimir Stadium and on their home pitch they have won 2, drawn 0 and lost one match.
In the first match these 2 teams played in group play the game was a 0-0 draw in Ukraine. In that match neither team was willing to give up anything and they did not attack much. This match may see the same style of play, especially from Ukraine who really need to come away from Zagreb with at least 1 point.
Ukraine’s strong suit on offense is not their attack, but rather their counterattack.
Croatia has to get back on defense, as Ukraine is very dangerous on counterattacks, with players like Mylevskiy, Shevchenko, Alyiev and Voronin.
Croatia’s Luca Modric transferred to Tottenham in the Premier League for a ton of money, but had a disappointing season. He is key for this match with his play-making skills.
Croatia will have to crack Ukraine’s tough defense that will be even tougher since the visitors will play even a more defensive style tonight in order to get at least 1 point.
The Ukraine player with the most attacking style is Andriy Shevchenko and head coach Olexiy Mikhaylichenko has hinted he will not even play, so that points to a very cautious style.
Jason’s Pick: Look for both teams to play a cautious match, but look for Croatia to sneak in a second half goal, as I see a 1-0 home win, which will almost kill any chance that Ukraine will be playing in South Africa next summer. With the defensive play in the game I also think the Under 2.5 goals wager is a solid pick.