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Iceland keep World Cup dream alive in Croatia draw

The underdogs, who were reduced to 10 men, produced a resilient performance against the Croats.

Iceland supporters react during their team's match against Croatia.
Iceland supporters react during their team's match against Croatia.

ICELAND KEPT ALIVE their bid to become the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup finals by holding Croatia to a desperate goalless draw on Friday.

Reduced to 10 men for the final 40 minutes of the match, Iceland’s doughty defence withstood relentless waves of Croatian attack.

The result means the islanders, under the watchful eye of experienced Swedish coach Lars Lagerback – who coached the Swedes at two World Cup finals – now go to Zagreb for Tuesday’s decisive second leg with absolutely everything to play for.

Croatia finished their qualifying campaign with something of a whimper, coming in a distant second behind Belgium in Group A after taking just one point from their last four games.

That run included two defeats to Scotland, but, under a new coach in Niko Kovac, they were by far the more attack-minded side in the Icelandic capital.

Home defender Olafur Skulason was red-carded in the 51st minute after bringing down Ivan Perisic a yard outside the goalkeeper’s area.

But Luka Modric’s curling free-kick over the wall was punched away by Iceland ’keeper Hannes Halldorsson, who was in action almost continually thereafter with his side a man down.

Ivica Olic’s tame follow-up was easily wrapped up by the defence and Ivan Rakitic’s strike after a neat Modric pass was then well saved by Halldorsson.

With less than 10 minutes remaining and against the run of play, Iceland won a free-kick to the right of the box, Josip Simunic just clearing the ball off the line.

But that was a mere blip as the action shot back up to the other end, Mario Mandzukic’s first-time shot from 18 yards narrowly missing the far post in the visitors’ clearest chance of the match.

With former Croatia captain Kovac making his bow as national team coach, the Croat side continued firing in the crosses, but Halldorsson and his defensive cohorts held firm to set up a mouth-watering trip to Zagreb.

- © AFP, 2013

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