Greece drawn with Stars of Croatia in World Cup Playoffs
Greece must overcome a tough final obstacle in the form of Croatia to reach the 2018 World Cup after being paired with their Eastern European opponents in today’s playoff draw in Zurich.
The Greeks, who were one of eight best runners-up in qualifying, were the second team in the second of the four two-legged ties to be drawn.
Michael Skibbe’s team will first travel to Croatia for the first leg which will take place between 9 and 11 November, with the return leg in Athens between 12 and 14 of the same month.
“We are happy with the draw,” said an upbeat Skibbe afterwards, whose team avoided Italy in the draw.
Greece could have got themselves an easier pairing in Denmark or Switzerland, but the German coach said before the draw that he would be happy with any team as long as they avoided the Italians.
“We are very happy to reach this stage and now we are looking forward to facing Croatia,” added Skibbe. “They are a very good team, and a very tough side who play great football.”
“Having said that we are very good defensively, and I have a lot of confidence in my players, so let’s see what happens out on the pitch. I think it is a slight advantage to have the first leg away from home. As I said we can play well defensively away but we still have to make sure we get a positive result at home to get through.”
For his part, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said: “We have great respect for our opponents, it will not be easy, but I trust in my players that we can get the job done.”
He added: “The chief concern for us is to have enough time to prepare and have everyone fit. But I’m an optimist and I think as long as we stay focused we can make it. I don’t mind about playing the first match at home, but having said that, the second match will be most important or both teams I think.”
The other ties are Northern Ireland vs Switzerland, Denmark vs Republic of Ireland, and Sweden vs Italy.