Perišić breaks Icelandic hearts at the death

Croatia have played a big part in Iceland’s footballing history. When the tiny island nation made the play-offs for the World Cup back in 2014, it was Croatia who knocked them out and took a place in the finals instead. When Iceland sealed their passage to this World Cup, they did so at the expense of the Croatians, who were consigned to a spot in the play-offs by the determined Icelanders. Now, in Rostov-on-Don, Iceland were facing Croatia once again, knowing that only a victory over the undefeated – and already qualified – Croatians would be enough to see them through to the knockout stages in their World Cup debut. Zlatko Dalić had made nine changes to the Croatian team that smashed Argentina to seal progress to the round of 16, and Iceland seemed to have a huge opportunity. Instead, they left the game, and the tournament, heartbroken after Croatia nabbed a late winner to scupper Iceland’s dreams.

The game started slowly, with Croatia controlling possession but failing to make any inroads with their attempts to pass through Iceland’s rigid defensive wall. For their part, Iceland started slowly, but as the game progressed they began to find some brilliant chances. One of Aron Gunnarsson’s trademark long throw-ins was flicked on by Hörður Björgvin Magnússon, but Ragnar Sigurðsson couldn’t get on the end of it. Magnússon was involved again shortly afterwards, but he couldn’t hit the target despite getting his head on Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson’s corner. Gylfi Sigurðsson forced Lovre Kalinić into the first save of the game with a nicely directed free-kick. Birkir Bjarnason, looking battered after an earlier collision with Marko Pjaca, had two shots blocked in the space of a few seconds.

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Milan Badelj celebrates after opening the scoring with an excellent finish. Badelj finished with a goal and an assist, and his work had a huge impact on the final result.

The chances got better as the teams approached half time. Alfreð Finnbogason missed a golden opportunity when he won the ball and played a one-two with Gylfi Sigurðsson to find himself open and in a dangerous position. He couldn’t find the target from the edge of the box. Croatia only barely survived moments later when Bjarnason slammed a shot at an exposed Kalinić. The goalkeeper, caught out of position by his rash decision to attack a corner, only just managed to repel Bjarnason’s well-hit effort, and the ball trailed harmlessly away from the area. On the stroke of half time, Kalinić was forced into another save, batting away Gunnarsson’s well-placed strike as Iceland went into the break in a decent enough position. Then Croatia recovered.

The Croatians burst out of the blocks after half time, and they put themselves in the lead shortly after the resumption through Milan Badelj. Minutes before the goal, Badelj had nearly scored with a powerful strike that took a slight deflection off Ragnar Sigurðsson and cannoned into the bar. He wasn’t denied when he got another chance. He started it himself, playing a lofted pass towards the left wing which proceeded to bobble around the Icelandic penalty area. After sitting back and watching for a few seconds, Badelj eventually decided to join in the attack. He timed his run to perfection, and he entered the box just as Josip Pivarić’s cross bounced in his direction. With excellent technique, he bounced the ball into the top corner, leaving Hannes Þór Halldórsson with no chance.

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Gylfi Sigurðsson celebrates after levelling the scores with a well-taken penalty. The goal wasn’t enough for Iceland, as Croatia grabbed a late winner to snatch victory and eliminate their opponents.

Iceland were behind, but they weren’t going to give up. They surged forward after the goal, and nearly scored when Gunnarsson’s long throw caused chaos in the box. Kalinić needed to use all of his height to tap Sverrir Ingi Ingason’s header over the bar, after Croatia’s defence had no clue what to do with the mighty heave into the box. Ingason nearly scored again seconds later, getting his head on a corner in a brilliant position but only managing to bounce the ball off the top of the bar. Iceland kept pushing, but when Bjarnason squandered a perfect cross from a counter-attacking Finnbogason, it looked like Iceland would be denied the equaliser they so desperately craved. Then they found it. It came from a penalty, with Dejan Lovren carelessly handling the ball in the box. Gylfi Sigurðsson, who had missed a penalty against Nigeria, stepped up again, and this time he made no mistake in drilling it down the middle. Iceland were back, and had the chance to push on for a winner.

That winner never came, as Croatia reasserted their control over the fatigued Icelandic side. Ivan Perišić and Ivan Rakitić had chances after Sigurðsson’s equaliser, and there were signs that Iceland were tiring. Then, in the final seconds of normal time, Perišić delivered the killing blow. Once again, it was Badelj who created the chance, picking the pocket of the exhausted Emil Hallfreðsson and delivering a perfect through ball for Perišić. After collecting the ball in space, Perišić was just too quick, and Halldórsson’s touch wasn’t enough to stop the ball from flying into the back of the net. Iceland didn’t stop fighting, and they nearly managed to bag a very late equaliser, but they were never going to score the two they needed in the time remaining. They showed heart, but in the end they just weren’t quite good enough.

Rostov-on-Don – Rostov Arena
Iceland 1 (Sigurðsson 76 pen)
Croatia 2 (Badelj 53, Perišić 90)
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Esp)
Iceland (4-2-3-1): Halldórsson – Sævarsson, Ingason, R Sigurðsson (Sigurðarson 70), Magnússon; Gunnarsson, Hallfreðsson; J Guðmundsson, G Sigurðsson, Bjarnason (Traustason 90); Finnbogason (A Guðmundsson 85).
Croatia (4-2-3-1): L Kalinić – Jedvaj, Ćorluka, Ćaleta-Car, Pivarić; Modrić (Bradarić 65), Badelj; Pjaca (Lovren 69), Kovačić (Rakitić 81), Perišić; Kramarić.

Top 5
1. Milan Badelj (Croatia)
Badelj played a key role in both goals, finishing the match with a goal and an assist in a classy midfield performance. He was able to create chances with his attacking runs from midfield, and he made a strong claim for a starting berth in Croatia’s round of 16 clash with Denmark.
2. Birkir Bjarnason (Iceland)
Bjarnason’s work rate is extraordinary, and he showed it in another strong performance. He always seems to be going full throttle, and he was able to have an impact in both attack and defence with his hard efforts down the left flank. He had a few great chances, and came very close to grabbing a goal.
3. Vedran Ćorluka (Croatia)
Ćorluka came into the team as part of a new-look Croatian defence, and used all of his experience to repel some of Iceland’s most dangerous attacks. He was solid in the air and always positioned himself well to win the ball, and he could well earn a starting spot with his excellent performance.
4. Mateo Kovačić (Croatia)
Kovačić was heavily involved as Croatia dominated possession, working well with Luka Modrić and weaving into space very effectively. He continued to find small pockets of space in the Icelandic defence, and he always looked threatening when he had the ball at his feet.
5. Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Iceland)
Ingason was unlucky not to score with a pair of close-range headers just after Iceland went behind, and he did very well to hold the defence together when Ragnar Sigurðsson was substituted in pursuit of goals. He was responsible for some excellent pieces of defensive work, and can take pride in his solid performance.

UEFA Euro 2016 Preview – Group D

Group D

Teams (world ranking in brackets): Spain (6), Czech Republic (30), Turkey (18), Croatia (27)
Turkey vs Croatia, Parc des Princes, Paris
Spain vs Czech Republic, Stadium Municipal, Toulouse
Czech Republic vs Croatia, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne
Spain vs Turkey, Allianz Riviera, Nice
Croatia vs Spain, Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Czech Republic vs Turkey, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens


Head Coach: Vincente del Bosque
Captain: Iker Casillas
Previous Appearances: 9 (1964, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Best Finish: Champions (1964, 2008, 2012)
Qualified: 1st Group C
UEFA Euro 2012: Champions


Goalkeepers: 1. Iker Casillas (Porto), 13. David de Gea (Manchester United), 23. Sergio Rico (Sevilla).
2. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), 3. Gerard Pique (Barcelona), 4. Marc Bartra (Barcelona), 12. Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), 15. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), 16. Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), 17. Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), 18. Jordi Alba (Barcelona).
5. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), 6. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), 8. Koke (Atletico Madrid), 10. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), 14. Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munchen), 19. Bruno Soriano (Villarreal), 21. David Silva (Manchester City).
7. Alvaro Morata (Juventus), 9. Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), 11. Pedro Rodriguez (Chelsea), 20. Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), 22. Nolito (Celta Vigo).

Form Guide

Spain’s performance at the World Cup was well below their lofty expectations, and their qualifying campaign started poorly with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slovakia in their second match. Vincente del Bosque’s side recovered with a 4-0 win over Luxembourg, and they did not look back, winning their last eight games to qualify with a game to spare.


Spain only conceded 3 goals in qualifying, and with the experience of Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique down back they will be incredibly difficult to score against. The midfield is exceptional, and with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Koke, Sergio Busquets and David Silva the strikers will be sure to get excellent supply. The Spanish know how to win, and despite the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup they are still one of the best sides around. They are the reigning champions, and it would not be a surprise if they triumph again.


Spain have been looking for a star striker for a long time, and while they thought that they had found their man in Diego Costa he has not turned out as planned. As such, they enter the finals without a star front man, and while there is plenty of promise in Alvaro Morata players like Nolito and Aritz Aduriz are past their peaks and are not likely to provide an abundance of goals at the tournament. The Spanish do not have a great deal of depth in their squad, and this could prove harmful in the case of an injury to one of their stars.

Star Player: David Silva

Silva arrived at Manchester City from Valencia in 2010, and he has developed into one of the most skilled players in the world. He is a traditional playmaker with brilliant technical skills and he will be sure to create plenty of chances for the strikers and plenty of issues for opposition defences with his work on the ball.

Key Player: Iker Casillas

Casillas has played over 150 times for Spain, and he has won everything there is to win in Spanish and European football. He is now at Porto after exiting Real Madrid, but he is still a quality player and the Spanish will rely on him to perform. If he plays like he did in the last World Cup then there will be serious issues, but it seems unlikely that he will play that poorly again.


The Spanish are very strong in defence and they have one of the best midfield groups going around, but they are still looking for a good target up front. There is also a lack of depth in the squad but with an experienced and frugal defence and a high-quality midfield there is no limit to how far the Spanish can progress into this tournament.

Czech Republic

Head Coach: Pavel Vrba
Captain: Petr Cech
Previous Appearances: 5 (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Best Finish: Runners-up (1996)
Qualified: 1st Group A
UEFA Euro 2012: Quarter-finals


Goalkeepers: 1. Petr Cech (Arsenal), 16. Tomas Vaclik (Basel), 23. Tomas Koubek (Slovan Liberec).
2. Pavel Kaderabek (Hoffenheim), 3. Michal Kadlec (Fenerbahce), 4. Theodor Gebre Selassie (Werder Bremen), 5. Roman Hubnik (Viktoria Plzen), 6. Tomas Sivok (Bursaspor), 8. David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen), 17. Marek Suchy (Basel).
9. Borek Dockal (Sparta Praha), 10. Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), 11. Daniel Pudil (Sheffield Wednesday), 13. Jaroslav Plasil (Bordeaux), 14. Daniel Kolar (Viktoria Plzen), 15. David Pavelka (Kasimpasa), 18. Josef Sural (Sparta Praha), 19. Ladislav Krejci (Sparta Praha), 20. Jiri Skalak (Brighton), 22. Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin).
7. Tomas Necid (Bursaspor), 12. Milan Skoda (Slavia Praha), 21. David Lafata (Sparta Praha).

Form Guide

The Czech Republic began their campaign by defeating the Netherlands, and they cruised to wins from their first four games. The side slowed down afterwards, but they still managed to qualify in first place, holding out Iceland and taking top spot with another victory against the Netherlands, this time in Amsterdam.


The Czechs have an excellent record at the Euros, both as Czechoslovakia and as the Czech Republic. Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Jaroslav Plasil are all very experienced, and Michal Kadlec and Tomas Sivok marshal a very solid defence. The defence is well-rounded, with Kadlec and Sivok joined by the likes of David Limbersky, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Daniel Pudil, Marek Suchy and Pavel Kaderabek, and there is plenty of depth in the middle of the park. Overall the Czechs are a very well-rounded side and are good enough to push for the latter stages of the tournament.


The Czechs have a good base, but they lack potency up front. Tomas Necid, David Lafata and Milan Skoda are all options, but they contributed just four goals in qualifying between them. Instead the scoring burden will fall upon the midfield, and this could prove harmful if players like Borek Dockal and Vaclav Pilar do not perform. In the middle Rosicky, who is a particularly important factor in the side’s success, has not played one minute of league football this season, and this lack of preparation could be a serious problem.

Star Player: Petr Cech

Cech is a record breaker at both club and international level, and he will lead the Czechs at the finals. His performances at Chelsea were nothing short of remarkable, and he is probably the best goalkeeper the club has ever had. Not much ever gets past him, and the Czech defence will be much harder to break down with him between the posts.

Key Player: Borek Dockal

Dockal scored four goals in qualifying, and with the absence of a real presence up front he will be required to find his scoring form again. In a team where goals could be a struggle Dockal could well be a game-changer, and he will be required to fire if the Czechs are going to get anywhere at the final tournament.


The Czechs have a well-rounded and experienced side, and after making the quarter-finals in 2012 they have the ability to go just as far this time around. Cech can be relied upon to perform, and with a solid defence in front of him the Czechs are going to be hard to break down. Their issues up front could prove costly, and they have been drawn into a tough group, but they can definitely do it.


Head Coach: Fatih Terim
Captain: Arda Turan
Previous Appearances: 3 (1996, 2000, 2008)
Best Finish: Semi-finals (2008)
Qualified: 3rd Group A (qualified as best third-placed team)
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify


Goalkeepers: 1. Volkan Babacan (Istanbul Basaksehir), 12. Onur Kivrak (Trabzonspor), 23. Harun Tekin (Bursaspor).
2. Semih Kaya (Galatasaray), 3. Hakan Balta (Galatasaray), 4. Ahmet Calik (Genclerbirgili), 7. Gokhan Gonul (Fenerbahce), 13. Ismail Koybasi (Besiktas), 15. Mehmet Topal (Fenerbahce), 18. Caner Erkin (Fenerbahce), 22. Sener Ozbayrakli (Fenerbahce).
5. Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund), 6. Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen), 8. Selcuk Inan (Galatasaray), 10. Arda Turan (Barcelona), 11. Olcay Sahan (Besiktas), 14. Oguzhan Ozyakup (Besiktas), 16. Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahce), 19. Yunus Malli (Mainz), 20. Volkan Sen (Fenerbahce).
9. Cenk Tosun (Besiktas), 17. Burak Yilmaz (Beijing Guoan), 21. Emre Mor (Nordsjaelland).

Form Guide

The Turkish started their qualification process horribly, with defeats to Iceland and the Czech Republic followed by a 1-1 draw against Latvia. The struggle continued but home-and-away wins against Kazakhstan kept them in contention and they beat the Dutch and the Czechs before sealing a spot as the best ranked third-placed team with a 1-0 victory over Iceland in Konya.


The Turkish team have some excellent players in the middle of the park, and Arda Turan, Selcuk Inan, Nuri Sahin and Hakan Calhanoglu are all top class players stationed at Europe’s top clubs. The side are coming in to the tournament in excellent form having pulled off three excellent victories to round out their campaign, and Inan’s incredible work from set pieces has the ability to create plenty of chances for the Turks when they get into the front third. There is plenty of experience in defence and the combination of Mehmet Topal, Gokhan Gonul and Caner Erkin will provide solidity.


Volkan Demirel has ruled himself out of international selection, and his absence leaves a hole in the number one jersey. Volkan Babacan appears likely to fill the position at the final tournament, but he is not nearly as experienced as Demirel and could struggle. Topal, Gonul and Erkin are all strong defenders, but the fourth spot in the defence is still up for grabs and could be a problem. There are options, but none are able to fully fill this void. There is a clear gulf in class between the best players in the side and the worst, and this lack of depth could be an issue.

Star Player: Arda Turan

Turan has vast experience at the highest level, and he was made captain of Galatasaray when he was just 21. He became the most expensive Turkish player ever when he transferred to Atletico Madrid, and his prowess in attacking midfield will be a massive threat for opposition defences. He has experienced plenty of success in his career, and he has the potential to have a massive tournament.

Key Player: Selcuk Inan

Inan has plenty of experience at the highest level, and in over 200 games for Galatasaray he has established himself as an excellent player and as an on-field leader. He has vast experience in the Turkish side, and if they are to go anywhere they will need him to fire and create plenty of chances. His work from set pieces is exceptionally dangerous and could prove key to Turkey’s success.


Turkey’s top players are exceptional, but there is not much beneath them. This could prove particularly costly in the event of an injury, and the issues raised by Demirel’s departure from the squad still exist. The Turkish are, however, a strong squad, and they could have a big impact on the final tournament.


Head Coach: Ante Cacic
Captain: Darijo Srna
Previous Appearances: 4 (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Best Finish: Quarter-finals (1996, 2008)
Qualified: 2nd Group H
UEFA Euro 2012: Group Stage


Goalkeepers: 1. Ivan Vargic (Rijeka), 12. Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), 23. Danijel Subasic (Monaco).
2. Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), 3. Ivan Strinic (Napoli), 5. Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moskva), 6. Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), 11. Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), 13. Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), 21. Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kyiv).
4. Ivan Perisic (Internazionale), 7. Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), 8. Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), 10. Luka Modric (Real Madrid), 14. Marcelo Brozovic (Internazionale), 15. Marko Rog (Dinamo Zagreb), 18. Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), 19. Milan Badelj (Fiorentina).
9. Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), 16. Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), 17. Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), 20. Marko Pjaca (Dinamo Zagreb), 22. Duje Cop (Malaga).

Form Guide

Croatia began their qualifying campaign with confidence, defeating Malta, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan before putting five goals past Norway, but after a one-point deduction for racist fan behaviour they slowed down, drawing Azerbaijan and losing 2-0 to the Norwegians in Oslo. In the end it took the help of Italy to progress, the Italians defeating Norway in the last game to put Croatia through.


In Mario Mandzukic, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic the Croatians have some excellent players with experience at the highest level. The attack is strong, and in addition to Mandzukic there are many other options. With Modric, Kovacic, Perisic and Rakitic in the midfield they have the class and the experience to match their opponents, and players like Darijo Srna and Vedran Corluka form a solid defence which only let in five goals during qualifying, and the Croatians have a well-rounded side with plenty of experience.


The Croatians have had a very set team for some time, and while this continuity is good it leaves a large hole in the event of injury to a key player. This lack of depth could prove particularly costly at the final tournament, where the pressure is higher and the stars could fail to shine. Croatia experienced a large downturn in performances during qualifying, and their efforts away from home can only be a worry, as they will not play in Croatia at the finals. There is also the unpredictable element of the fans, whose racist behaviour has caused issues in the past and could lead to costly sanctions.

Star Player: Luka Modric

Modric has played for Real Madrid since 2012, and he has plenty of experience at the highest level. He has played countless times in the Champions League, and his work creating opportunities for the strikers from the centre of midfield will be effective and very difficult to defend. He is a top quality player, and he can provide a massive boost to the Croatian team.

Key Player: Vedran Corluka

With the omission of Dejan Lovren from the squad it will be up to Corluka to fill the void left by the first-choice centre back. Corluka has plenty of experience at the highest level, and if Croatia are to get anywhere he will need to be a leader down back and perform at the heart of defence. If he fails life will be very difficult for the Croatians.


Croatia have a well-rounded and experienced side, but a lack of depth could be an issue. While this is the case the core group of players is exceptionally strong, and they should be able to perform better than they did at the World Cup in Brazil. They will always have to contend with the potential wildcard of the fans, but the side themselves are strong enough.


The Spanish are comfortably the strongest team in this group, and they should progress with ease. This leaves an interesting battle for second, with Turkey, Croatia and the Czech Republic all very evenly matched sides. In the end, the Czechs could struggle due to their deficient attack, and Croatia should go through with their experience and their very strong midfield.
1. Spain, 2. Croatia, 3. Turkey, 4. Czech Republic.