SCOTLAND coach Stuart McCall has warned that Croatia still have plenty of quality to call upon for tomorrow’s final World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park even if they do rest a number of players who are in danger of being suspended.
Croatia’s 2-1 home defeat by Belgium on Friday night meant the visitors qualified for the Brazil finals next summer as winners of Group A with Igor Stimac’s men consigned to a play-off place as runners-up. However, Vedran Corluka, Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Niko Kranjcar, Nikica Jelavic, Gordon Schildenfeld, Ivan Strinic, Eduardo and Ognjen Vukojevic are all on yellow cards and will miss the first game of the play-off if they are cautioned against Scotland.
Josip Simunic is suspended and Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic, both on yellow cards, have dropped to the Croatia Under-21s, while Ivan Rakitic, also cautioned earlier in the tournament, is out injured.
McCall believes Stimac has been left with a dilemma, but does not feel Croatia will be seriously weakened if they utilise their squad to leave it as complete as possible for the play-offs. “As a manager you want to go into the play-offs on the back of a good result,” said the Motherwell boss, whose club left-back Stevie Hammell has been drafted into the Scotland squad as back-up to Lee Wallace, who is very doubtful with a knee injury.
“There is no doubt about that. You want to be going into the play-offs on the back of a positive result.
“There are a lot of key individuals on yellow cards and if they were to pick another one up they would miss the first game of the play-offs.
“It depends on the individual. If you look at the likes of Modric, you think, ‘is he a hot-head? Is he sensible enough to think I am not going to get myself in a situation’? Then you look at centre-half Corluka. He has to win his headers and win his tackles, so it is difficult.
“But if you look at Friday night, they still had a lot of good players on the bench.
“Niko Kranjcar came off the bench to score, Ivica Olic was on the bench, there were other star names like Eduardo, so they have a strong squad.
“I am not so sure that making three or four changes will weaken them that much, with the strength and depth that they have got.
“Again, the coach is experienced, he will make that call.”
While the Scots have long been playing only for pride in the group, there is a degree of optimism around the Scotland camp following the 2-1 win over Macedonia in Skopje in their last game and the 1-0 victory over Croatia in June – in addition to battling performances in defeats by Belgium and England in between.
However, McCall urged a little caution, saying: “You don’t want to get carried away because sometimes one bad result can take the wheels off again.
“I thought we played really well in Macedonia and dominated the game.
“But they got back to 1-1 with ten minutes to go and if they had got a late goal rather than us, it would have changed the whole complexion. It would have been a bit more doom and gloom.
“Without getting carried away, the training sessions have been good and everyone wants to be here, which they should do. To get Scott Brown back in the middle of the park has been key and James Morrison has come back in.
“You look around the squad and consider the players who aren’t here through injuries etc, and if we can get everyone together I think we have a strong unit.”
While the Scots look to have avoided last place in the group, McCall is aware of the importance of finishing the campaign with a first home win.
“We want to finish as high up the table as we can,” he said.
“So we need something from the game. It will be a positive approach to keep the momentum going.”