Michael O’Neill's side can make home advantage count in Tuesday's friendly.
Northern Ireland v Croatia – Tuesday 19:45, Premier Sports
Northern Ireland’s last home fixture saw them put a high-flying Azerbaijan side to the sword with a 4-0 victory, a win that boss Michael O’Neill described as ‘huge’ and which saw them move up to second in Group C. Croatia moved to the top of Group I after a Marcelo Brozovic brace eased them past Iceland on Saturday, but they will face a sterner test against a Northern Ireland outfit that has kept five consecutive clean sheets at Windsor Park.
Friday’s game against Azerbaijan saw a return to the Northern Ireland squad for West Brom’s Chris Brunt, who marked his return from a knee injury with a goal, but O’Neill may avoid risking him against a physical Croatia side. Jamie Ward and Stuart Dallas remain unavailable and there are question marks over Conor Washington after he missed the final training session. Croatia have even more significant availability worries: Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and Danijel Subasic are all missing for this friendly clash, and it was confirmed on Monday morning that Ivan Perisic will also miss the game.
Northern Ireland have scored 11 goals in their last three home games and have now won their last six in their own backyard whilst conceding just one goal. Since Croatia are missing most of their first-choice midfielders and their starting keeper, home advantage could play a key role in a friendly where only pride is at stake, so we think Northern Ireland look a big price at 3.8 to win and continue their excellent run at home.