Croatia faces Belarus in WC qualifier

Croatia faces Belarus in a WC qualifier knowing anything less than the expected victory will turn the competition for Group C's coveted playoff spot.

updated: August 11, 2009 16:41 IST
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Minsk, Belarus:

Croatia faces Belarus in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday knowing anything less than the expected victory will turn the competition for Group C's coveted playoff spot into a three-team scrap.

Croatia is tied with Ukraine for second place on 11 points, 10 points behind top-placed England, imperious so far with seven straight victories.

Belarus is just two points behind Croatia and Ukraine but has a game in hand, meaning an unlikely victory over Croatia will see Belarus leapfrog them both, giving it a chance of making its first ever World Cup finals appearance in South Africa next year.

Croatia, however, is confident that its own World Cup ambitions will not be derailed.

"It will be very difficult in Minsk, but we are a much stronger side than Belarus and realistically we can expect all three points," said Croatia's Brazilian-born forward Eduardo da Silva.

Croatia captain Darijo Srna stressed that there was no complacency in the squad.

"We are highly motivated to show how strong we are," Srna said. "If we don't win, it means we don't deserve to be at the World Cup."

On the injury front, Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has brought Dinamo Zagreb defender Dejan Lovren in to the team after losing Robert Kovac and Hrvoje Vejic.

Belarus coach Berndt Stange, meanwhile, acknowledged his team is the underdog.

"Even a draw with such a team is honorable," Stange said. "But that result will not suit the Belarusians. We want to win and we will play to win," the German-born coach said.

His talismanic captain, Barcelona's Alexander Hleb, will play on Wednesday despite being short of match fitness after a long summer break.

"Physically I am not ready," Hleb said. "I hope with the support of the team and supporters I can keep going as long as possible so the team can score a goal or two," he said.

Croatia has played in the last three World Cup tournaments, while Belarus has never qualified, coming closest in 2002.

England, meanwhile, can clinch its fourth straight World Cup appearance with victory over Croatia at Wembley on Sept. 9.