Croatia v Greece
Thursday, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports Mix

Croats eye back door again
Croatia have been here before. And yet play-offs hold no fear for them despite the agonising prospect of falling at the final hurdle.

They've faced this win-or-bust two-legged showdown on four occasions - twice in the World Cup and twice in European Championships - and gone through every time.

Their victims? Iceland twice, Turkey and Slovenia.

They're in this position again after winning six, drawing two and losing two of their 10 games, finishing runner-up in Group I to those familiar foes Iceland, who edged them out by 22 points to 20.

A 1-1 home draw with Finland proved their undoing and cost Ante Cacic his job. Zlatko Dalic has stepped in but for how long remains to be seen.

Having the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic to call upon must be a comforting thought though - as is their home record.

Croatia are unbeaten since a 2-1 loss to Belgium in October 2013.

Greece yet to slip up
Something has to give in this tie as Greece also have a 100% record in coming through play-offs.

It's a route they've had to navigate in the last two World Cups, overcoming Romania 4-2 on aggregate in 2014 and edging past Ukraine 1-0 in 2010.

Their qualifying campaign produced five wins, four draws and just a single loss

That defeat came against runaway group winners Belgium (2-1 at home) although they did hold the Belgians to a 1-1 draw in Brussels, Romelu Lukaka netting a late equaliser for the table toppers after Konstantinos Mitroglou put Greece in front.

The Olympic Marseille striker fired in six goals in their 10 qualifiers, making him the joint eighth highest scorer from the European section.

Croatia big favourites
Croatia have won two and drawn two of their home legs in play-offs and they're just 1.38 to take a lead to Athens on Sunday.

Greece are 14.00 to cause a surprise while the draw is 4.80. In the 'To Qualify' market, Croatia are 1.25 to Greece's 3.85. I think it will be much closer than that.

The Greeks love the role of underdog and in their two previous away legs in play-offs they nicked a 1-0 win away to Ukraine and drew 1-1 in Romania.

They did their best work on the road in this campaign too, accumulating 11 of their 19 points after wins in Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar along with that draw against Belgium and a 0-0 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In fact, looking back over the last two years, they've lost just once in nine games on the road

One thing worth pointing out in this tie is that no away fans will be allowed in either leg. It harks back to a Euro qualifier between the two teams in 2011 being marred by crowd trouble along with previous incidents in a Dinamo Zagreb v PAOK Salonika Europa League match.

Will it give the home side an extra edge? Or just make the visitors dig in even further?

Overall, that price on the draw is definitely worth a play and it certainly doesn't hurt when looking at the head-to-heads to find that Greece have drawn all three away games they've played in Croatia - even if that's going back to 2010 (0-0), 2001 (2-2) and 1996 (1-1).

Goals should be scarce
Under 2.5 goals is predictably short at just 1.60 while Overs is 2.44.

It's logical to think that both teams won't be too gung-ho in the first leg and, given the situation and their reputation for keeping in tight, Greece are a great team to have onside for Unders backers.

Unders would have landed in their two hardest away games in the group (1-1 in Belgium, 0-0 in Bosnia and Herzegovina) while it's also noticeable that Unders was the outcome in all five of Croatia's home games (2-0, 1-0, 1-1, 1-1 and 1-0).

History supports the bet too. The goal make-ups in Greece's two previous play-off ties away from home were 2 and 1 and, for Croatia at home, 2-0-2-2.

Mitroglou main threat
Croatians dominate the market with Mario Mandzukic (top scorer in qualifying with five) and Nikola Kalinic just 6/4 (Sportbook) to register but neither appeal in what I expect to be a low-scoring contest.

The closest I'd come to a bet is Mitroglou at 7/2. He's netted three times in Greece's last two games, has scored seven times in his last 10 starts at international level and was also on target for Marseille at the weekend.

Perhaps this could have a hint of 2004 about it with a reprise of Angelos Charisteas scoring in a 1-0 Greece win, something he did in the final against Portugal and in the quarters against France.

Mitroglou to score in a 1-0 Greece victory is 95/1 and I'll have to roll the dice at that price!

Ref watch
The fans don't like each other but does that spill onto the pitch too?

It was certainly a niggly affair when they last met in 2011, with Howard Webb flashing nine yellow cards whilst also suspending the game for three minutes due to crowd trouble.

Italian ref Gianluca Rocchi gets the dubious pleasure this time and he certainly doesn't mind reaching for his pocket.

In his last 10 matches Rocchi has shown 42 yellows and three reds. There's certainly scope then to go 45 and Over on the bookings points.

Recommended Bets

0.5pts Draw at 4.80
2pts Under 2.5 Goals at 1.60
0.5pts Kostas Mitroglou First Goalscorer in a 1-0 Greece win at 95/1 (Sportsbook)
1pt 45pts and Over Bookings

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