Modric key to unlocking Greece
Croatia will look to talented and experienced Real star to seal qualification
Croatia will hope Real Madrid star Luka Modric can carry the nation to the World Cup Finals as they go into the first leg of a tricky play-off with Greece tomorrow morning (Singapore time) at the Maksimir Stadium.
Croatia clinched second place in Group I with a 2-0 win in Ukraine in their final match following a turbulent campaign, with coach Ante Cacic sacked and replaced by Zlatko Dalic before the deciding game.
Dalic will be counting on Modric, 32, to build on his brilliant performance in Kiev in October to help beat the 2004 European champions and secure a place in the tournament in Russia next year.
Modric, who has 11 goals in 101 international appearances, is the biggest star Croatia has produced since 1998, when they surprisingly reached the World Cup semi-finals, losing to eventual winners France.
In October, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Dinamo Zagreb star was named, for the third time, in the Fifa FIFPro team selected by thousands of professional players.
In 2015, he became the first Croat voted into the FIFPro XI.
Ahead of tomorrow's contest, Modric, who took over as captain from Shakhtar Donetsk defender Darijo Srna last year, said: "We have confidence, but also a difficult rival in Greece."
Croatia are unbeaten in 11 competitive home games, winning eight and drawing three, although Greece have not lost an away qualifier, winning three and drawing two.
Croatia have won all four of their previous play-off ties - to reach either World Cup or European Championship tournaments - and have booked a place at nine out of 11 major Finals as an independent nation.
"Winning the first leg would make life so much easier in the return fixture," Croatia winger Ivan Perisic added.
"The Greeks will certainly be defensive and try as hard as they can to keep a clean sheet, but we have enough up front to swing the tie our way in Zagreb.
"It's down to us, just as it was against Ukraine. The new coach injected fresh ideas and we did the best job we could in that vital game."
Greece, who finished behind Belgium in Group H, are aiming for a third straight World Cup Finals after reaching the knockout phase for the first time at Brazil 2014.
They are hoping captain Vasilis Torosidis and central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos are fit for the first leg, while AS Roma defender Kostas Manolas is suspended after a fair play violation.
The football federations of both countries have agreed that, for security reasons, both matches will be played without visiting fans.
The return fixture is on Nov 12 in Piraeus. - WIRE SERVICES