ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — Iceland defender Kari Arnason isn’t afraid to see red if it means stopping one of the World Cup’s most creative sides when it takes on Croatia on Tuesday.
Both teams have a history of sending offs when they meet, with three red cards handed out in their last four matches.
Arnason sees Croatia as one of teams that could win the tournament, but the central defender’s teammates aren’t giving them a free ride and are promising grueling physical challenges.
With the Croats already qualified, Iceland must win their final Group D game in Rostov-on-Don, while keeping fingers crossed that Nigeria can’t inflict another defeat on Argentina.
Arnason, in fact, is taking inspiration from the spiky nature of Iceland-Croatia encounters.
“In those kind of games, players push themselves to the limit, and sometimes they go over the line,” Arnason said before the team headed to southern Russia. “A red card was shown to one of our players in those matches. We’re more than ready to take another one if it would help our team.”
Arnason he thought it was unlikely Argentina would finish their three group matches without victory, but took little comfort in the prospect of Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic resting core players to avoid suspensions and fatigue.
“Their starting 11 is incredible really,” he said. “There’s talk about them resting players, but it doesn’t really affect them so much since they’ve got very good quality on the bench as well so I can’t see it affecting their game at all. We’ll have to play a very good game to stand a chance.”
With many of the traditional favorites struggling, Croatia has emerged as a standout in Russia, thrashing Argentina 3-0 and defeating the Nigeria 2-0.
Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic ruled out sitting back on Tuesday.
“Honestly, we want to win in every game,” he said “No matter who is playing, no matter who is in the first 11, or not, we will try to continue and get three points.”
In their six encounters, Croatia has won four times, lost once and drawn once.
Iceland is the nation with the smallest population ever to qualify for a World Cup, with some 350,000 inhabitants, but it stunned two-time champion Argentina in its opening match with a 1-1 draw thanks to Alfred Finnbogason’s equalizer. The team, known to Icelanders simply as “Our Boys,” lost the second match 2-0 to an irrepressible Nigeria.
Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said players took heart from having beaten Croatia at home in qualifying.
“We know the scenario when we play Croatia: It’s going to be a really tough game,” he said. “We’ve often said we’re like a married couple. We’re trying to get divorced, but we always meet up again.”
Steve Douglas in Roschino contributed to this report.
Follow Derek Gatopoulos at www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup