2013-11-19 03:42 AM
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- Iceland is facing Croatia in a potentially historic World Cup playoffs match that could make the Nordic nation the smallest country ever, in terms of population, to reach the tournament.
Iceland has close to 320,000 inhabitants. Trinidad and Tobago, with about 1.2 million people, so far is the least populous nation to qualify for the World Cup, in 2006.
Iceland overcame the second-half sending-off of Olafur Skulason to hold on for a 0-0 draw against Croatia in the first leg in Reykjavik last week.
Here are five things to know about Tuesday's second leg in Zagreb, Croatia:
Only some 10,000 tickets have been sold for the match at the 40,000-capacity Maksimir stadium as Croatian fans appear furious at the poor performance of their team in the first leg and the recently concluded World Cup qualifying group.
Also, the stadium in the Croatian capital is quite run-down and uncomfortable for fans and players after stalled renovations of its stands and dressing rooms.
Croatian media launched a campaign to convince fans to come to the match, saying it would be a "disaster" if Croatia did not qualify.
VITAL AWAY GOAL
Iceland players and coaches know they will probably be defending for most of the 90 minutes as the Croatians are expected to attack from the start, but are hopeful that will open up opportunities to score on a counterattack.
"I am aware that Croatia will try to pressure from the start, but it also comes with potential hazards," Iceland coach Lars Lagerback said. "If we score, it would be tough for them then."
"I said before the first leg that we could stand our ground against Croatia and eliminate them," he said. "I stand by that remark, we have it in us to qualify for the World Cup and that will be our mission in Zagreb."
Croatian players and coaches have openly voiced irritation with Iceland's optimism.
"I am aware that they are high on expectations, full of enthusiasm, but to be honest, I have no idea where their optimism comes from," said Croatia striker Ivica Olic. "They did not come to our goal in the first leg. We all know how important this is. We are better team, we will score more than once, we will win and go to Brazil. I have been at the World Cup, I know what it meant to me and the whole country."
CHANGE OF FORTUNES
Croatia, which was a World Cup semifinalist in 1998, has lost two of its last World Cup qualifiers at home, 1-0 against Scotland and 2-1 against Belgium, and earned only one point from the last four group-stage matches, a 1-1 draw with Serbia.
Iceland, which has never qualified for a major championship, was unbeaten in its last four group matches, beating Albania 2-1, Cyprus 2-0 and drawing Switzerland 4-4 and Norway 1-1.
ICE AGAINST FIRE
Croatia's national team has been nicknamed "Fiery" by their fans. Amid the pessimism in Croatia about the outcome of the match against Iceland, one newspaper headline read: "Let Not Ice Put Out the Fire!"
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed.