Ten European teams including the hosts Russia, have already qualified for the prestigious 2018 FIFA World Cup. However, eight teams from Europe, who failed to qualify directly, still have a grand chance to make it, depending on their head-to-head result in the upcoming play-offs.
Croatia and Greece are two such teams who will be eyeing that spot as they are set for a massive first leg play-off encounter at Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb on Thursday, November 9. With Croatia at home, they will be keen to take full advantage and get a firm grip over their opponents in the first leg itself.
However, things do not look too good for the home side. Croatia's ace striker Mario Mandzukic is doubtful for the mega clash as he is suffering from hamstring strain and defensive midfielder Milan Badelji has been already ruled out with rib injury.
With key players missing, Croatia need their star players such as Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic to shoulder the responsibility. These players, with their skills, will be looking to open up Greece's defence, who do not leak many goals. They only conceded six goals in the qualifiers stage.
Perisic knows about the importance of the first leg and understands the game plan of Greece, which they need to foil.
"Winning the first leg would make life so much easier in the return fixture. The Greeks will certainly be defensive and try as hard as they can to keep a clean sheet, but we have enough up our sleeve up front in an effort to swing the tie our way here in Zagreb," Perisic told the Croatian Football Association's website.
The Greeks, though might be a defensive team, cannot be taken for granted. It is worth noting that Greece only lost one match in the entire qualifiers (first round). They might not have big names like that of Croatia, but it is their collective unit, which has always helped them prevail. Greece, as a team, never give up.
Greece, in the last six editions of the World Cup, have only featured thrice in the mega event, but qualified for the last two in South Africa and Brazil. They are trying to feature in their third straight World Cup finals, and Croatia are a major and a difficult obstacle in their path.
But, qualifying for a competition like the World Cup has never been easy and Greece should play out of their skin to fulfil their dream.
Where to watch live
Croatia vs Greece World Cup play-offs is scheduled for 8:45 local time (1:15 am IST, 7:45 pm GMT, 2:45 pm ET) start. Here is the live streaming and TV options.
India: TV - Sony Ten 1/HD. Live stream - SonyLiv
Croatia: TV - HRT 1
Greece: TV – Skai Tv, Cosmote Sport 1
UK: TV - Sky Sports Mix, Now TV. Live stream - Sky Go
USA: TV - ESPN 3, ESPN Deportes. Live stream - Watch ESPN