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World Cup

Nov 11, 2021 at 7.45pm UK
Brozovic (31' og.)
Pepe (79')
FT(HT: 1-4)
Perisic (6'), Caleta-Car (22'), Pasalic (39'), Modric (45+1'), Majer (47', 64'), Kramaric (53')

Preview: Malta vs. Croatia - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Malta vs. Croatia - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's World Cup Qualifying - Europe clash between Malta and Croatia, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Croatia's hopes of automatically qualifying for the 2022 World Cup will go down to the wire this week, starting with Thursday's trip to Malta.

The 2018 World Cup runners-up are currently second to Russia in Group H, but they still have to host the leaders in the final round of matches.

Match preview

Three wins in a row without conceding ensured Croatia's fate was in their own hands until the most recent round of fixtures when drawing 2-2 with Slovakia.

Croatia twice fell behind in that game and needed a Luka Modric strike 19 minutes from time to ensure they dodged a first defeat since losing to Spain at Euro 2020.

With Russia winning four on the spin, Zlatko Dalic's men now trail the previous tournament hosts by two points heading into the penultimate round of games.

Russia are at home to bottom side Cyprus, so Croatia will not be realistically relying on any favours elsewhere on Thursday.

All they can do is see off Malta, ideally by a comfortable margin to bolster their goal difference, to set up a final-day shootout with Russia in Split.

Malta will consider anything other than a resounding defeat in Ta' Qali as a positive given that they are ranked 173rd by FIFA.

The Falcons did manage to snap a three-game losing run without scoring in their most recent outing, however, thanks to a 2-2 draw away at Cyprus.

Jurgen Degabriele struck in the 98th minute in that contest to keep Malta above Cyprus on goal difference in fifth place.

Devis Mangia's side host Slovakia in the final round of matches and know that one point from these remaining two games should see them avoid bottom spot.

Malta World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • D

Malta form (all competitions):
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • D

Croatia World Cup Qualifying - Europe form:
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D

Croatia form (all competitions):
  • L
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D

Team News

Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic is a big-name absentee from the Croatia squad due to injury, while Borna Barisic is suspended for this match.

Kovacic, who started alongside Modric and Marcelo Brozovic in the 3-0 win against Cyprus last time out, is expected to be replaced by Mario Pasalic here.

Andrej Kramaric has not exactly been scoring goals for fun this season, but he should get the nod up top once again, with Ivan Perisic providing support from the left.

As for Malta, Steve Borg - who plies his trade for Maltese Premier League side Gzira United - will miss his side's November double-header.

Enrico Pepe and Zach Muscat will hope to retain their places in the back three, which should be completed by the returning Kurt Shaw.

Malta possible starting lineup:
Bonello; Attard, Pepe, Muscat; Attard, Caruana, Teuma, Camenzuli; J.Mbong, P.Mbong; Montebello

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Vida, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic; Ivanusec, Pasalic, Perisic; Kramaric

We say: Malta 0-4 Croatia

Should the unthinkable happen and Croatia fail to beat lowly Malta, top spot may well be out of the question before the final-day visit of Russia.

Dalic's side will therefore be well motivated on Thursday, and we can see this being a pretty emphatic away win in Ta' Qali.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting over 2.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Over 2.5:data

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