Soccer Picks: Croatia vs. Iceland World Cup Qualifier

Nila Amerova

Monday, November 18, 2013 2:56 PM GMT

Will Croatia come through on their favorable odds? Or will Iceland be one of the top picks this week?

Croatia runaway favorites

The European World Cup playoff between Croatia and Iceland comes down to the wire, to be decided in the second leg after a scoreless draw in Reykjavik last week.

The first leg did not go to plan. Favorites Croatia, albeit on the long side of even money at +100, were expected to traipse into the nation’s capital and deal the Icelanders a defeat that would almost assuredly send them on their way to Brazil. Or so thought pundits and experts alike. Tale told a 10-man Iceland proved the measure of Croatia.

Mind you it’s never easy to play on the road. But we are talking about Iceland, not what you’d call a giant in football – Iceland have never made it into the global showpiece while Croatia have on several occasions. Let’s not forget as well how blindingly superior Croatia appeared on paper with a glittering star-studded cast that includes Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic, to name a few. And that makes the verdict then all the more disappointing on Croatia and Coach Niko Kovac’s debut at the helm of the national team.

The most glaring aspect of the match was Iceland’s defensive deposit. For a side that conceded 15 goals while scoring 17 in Group E qualifying – a pool of nations that included Switzerland, Slovenia, Cypress, Norway and Albania (so not exactly the highest football pedigree) – to seemingly flip the script on Croatia was impressive.

They prepared a gritty and organized game plan to perfection and not for a lack of effort by Croatia either. As the Southern Slavs attacked in waves and kept the pressure on Iceland’s man between the posts incessantly, but Hannes Halldorsson was up to the task, holding strong to their utter frustration; not to mention the frustration of fans and soccer bettors who’d anticipated a straightforward victory by Croatia.

Despite the solid account overall by Iceland, sportsbooks send them into the reverse leg at Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb as the whopping +1000 underdogs – soccer odds that seem rather disingenuous when they remain well and truly in the battle for a spot in Brazil. Although it makes some sense when considering (over and above their pedigree and experience) the fact that Iceland enter the second leg plagued with several key injuries (namely Kolbeinn Sigthorsson),and various cards including the red card to Olafur Skulason.

That said, Iceland did show heart and resilience in the last 40 minutes to hold Croatia down to a scoreless draw and that is something newly appointed manager Niko Kovac and his men will need to mind. They simply cannot underestimate Iceland or take anything for granted otherwise they might be left behind in Zagreb to rue missed opportunities and what might have been.

Croatia vs. Iceland betting tips and picks

Croatia enter as the hot favourites at -333 at Bet365 to win at home and priced at -450 to book safe passage into football’s most prestigious competition. But in Reykjavík they didn’t play up to the standard most expected them to and so we have to wonder whether they merit such strong soccer odds.  If Croatia are to prove to be good value to win outright and to qualify, Niko Kovac will need to change tactics and his men will need to really take it to Iceland at early doors. 

Iceland may be priced a long shot at +1000 to win the match but they are listed at only +333 to qualify. On Friday, they really showed us how badly they wanted to do their nation proud and keep the football dream alive. So close are they to making history: qualify for their first ever finals as well as becoming the smallest nation ever to qualify, those intangibles alone provide motivation that would make them a rather tempting soccer pick for the massive upset.

If the second leg falls in line with the first leg – settles on a scoreless draw, that is (the draw is listed at +375, a scoreless result is tipped at +800 soccer odds at Bet365) – well, then we would have a real fight as the match would have to go the distance, in which case all bets would be off and it would be a coin toss between which side will be doing the samba when all is said and done. You’d have to like Iceland’s chances even better then, even if a hostile Zagreb crowd will do whatever it can to carry its team to victory.

Soccer Betting Verdict: Overwhelming soccer betting markets are leaning towards Croatia to win outright and qualify for the main event. On paper they aren’t wrong. However, given form and managerial changes (perhaps the national federation panicked prematurely), it’s up to the individual soccer bettor to decide their merit. For our part, freezing out Croatia in Reykjavik was just too impressive. Now that Lars Lagerback’s men are a match win away from Brazil, a seductive thought that is perched on tempting soccer odds, we can’t help but be swayed towards them, their heart and determination and their story as well. So we’re plumping down to the upset as our value soccer pick.

Soccer Free Picks: Iceland to win outright and to qualify. 

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