Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson insisted that his side are still hopeful of reaching the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup, despite a disappointing 2-0 defeat against Group D rivals Nigeria on Friday.
The Scandinavians started strongly but were outplayed by the Super Eagles in the second half, as Ahmed Musa netted a brace and Gylfi Sigurdsson missed a late penalty.
Speaking in the post-match press conference – and quoted by Nigerian website Complete Sports – Hallgrimsson said: “It’s a strange fact that we are still in the race. We didn’t think we would go through this World Cup without a loss and losses are always difficult to swallow. But we only need to beat Croatia, which is possibly easier to say than do.”
Iceland have faced Croatia in six World Cup qualifiers, four of which were won by the Croats. However, Iceland won the most recent of these clashes, which took place in June 2017 in Reykjavik. Hallgrimsson was only too happy to point this out.
“They’ve had two really, really good performances in the World Cup,” he said, adding: “The last one was a shining example of how good Croatia is but that also gives us confidence because we were ahead of them in our [qualifying] group and have already beaten them once in Iceland.”
Hallgrimsson jokingly likened Croatia to an ex-partner: “We’ve played Croatia four times in four years and we’ve often said we’re like a married couple trying to get divorced but we always meet up again.”
Iceland made an excellent start to their first ever World Cup finals, holding Argentina to a 1-1 draw in a match they were widely expected to lose. Ironically, they were widely expected to win against Nigeria but looked some way short of their best.
Iceland will take on Croatia in Rostov on Tuesday – a match they need to win to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16.