Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić has commented on the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying draw.
Croatia was drawn in Group H in Zurich on Monday alongside Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.
“As is mostly the case, the draw could have been better and worse, but Croatia remains the top pick to win the group and we should not run away from the role of favourites. Our goal is to qualify for the World Cup, and this is a group where we can achieve that. Strong matches from the past two years have come in handy as preparation for these matches,” said coach Zlatko Dalic after the draw, before adding.
“We got Slovakia and Russia from the second and third pots, opponents with whom we have a relatively fresh experience, they will be our biggest competitors for the first place. However, other games are not easy either because we got the best national teams from other pots. I repeat, Croatia is the favourite and that is how we will position ourselves from the beginning.”
Croatia is unbeaten against all the group opponents except Slovakia.
Croatia has recent qualifying history with Slovakia after they were in the same group Euro 2020 qualifiers. Croatia won the group, beating Slovakia twice (0-4, 3-1). In their 15 matches they have played, Croatia has won 10, drawn 3, and lost twice.
Slovakia is ranked 33rd in the world.
“Slovakia proved to be a quality team, they deservedly qualified for the EURO. We played a great game in Trnava, but let’s remember that they led and showed quality in Rijeka. They have experience playing with Croatia and it will come in handy,” Dalić said.
Croatia and Russia last met in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinal which Croatia won on penalties. Russia, who are currently ranked 39th in the world, have not beaten Croatia in 4 meetings.
“The Russians are good, they showed it against us at the World Cup, after they knocked out Spain,” Dalić added.
Croatia is unbeaten against neighbours Slovenia in 9 games. They last met in 2008 when Croatia won 3-2. Slovenia is ranked 62nd.
“Slovenia has risen and is advancing under the leadership of Matjaž Kek who knows us very well, and as our neighbours will surely have a special motive to show their quality.”
Cyprus and Malta, ranked 100th and 176th in the world, are yet to beat Croatia in an international.
“Cyprus and Malta are national teams that show from cycle to cycle that they are a tough nut to crack for even the best national teams, and certainly not easy opponents to help increase the goal difference,” Dalić said.
“The group is demanding, with strong opponents that we respect. But Croatia in Qatar wants to defend its world silver, and we will do everything to achieve that.”
All teams in the group will play each other twice in a home and away format between March and November 2021. The ten group winners will qualify directly for Qatar 2022, with the ten runners-up advancing to the play-offs.
Besides the ten runners-up from the group stage, the play-offs will also include the two best group winners from the UEFA Nations League 2020-2021 overall ranking that did not qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and did not enter the play-offs as runners-up.
The 12 teams will be split into three play-off paths, which will feature single-leg knockout matches in March 2022 to determine the last three European nations to book a place in Qatar.