Fujairah: Croatia must beat Uzbekistan in their final match in Group C here on Thursday in order to guarantee their place in the knockout stages at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup.
Having recovered from their opening 3-1 loss to Morocco with a 1-0 win over Panama, Ivan Gudelj’s side are currently third in the group on three points.
Uzbekistan, who beat Panama 2-0 first up, and Morocco are joint-leaders on four points each after their goalless draw on Monday.
Whoever finishes first in Group C will play one of the best third-placed teams from Groups A, B or F, whereas second in Group C will play the runner-up from Group A.
If Morocco beat Panama in Sharjah on Thursday as expected and Croatia overturn the Uzbeks, Gudelj’s side will leapfrog Dilshod Nuraliyev’s Uzbekistan into second and avoid the uncertainty of having to qualify as one the group stage’s best third-placed teams.
The third-placed team in Group C could play either the winner of Group A or B, depending on how their points and goal difference compares to the third-placed teams from other groups.
Croatia coach Gudelj said: “We are doing better and better. Now we have more self-confidence from the win over Panama and it is easier to analyse and prepare for the next game off the back of a win.
“It was hard to encourage the team after losing the first match because we haven’t lost many games before. We didn’t play our best but we haven’t yet had continuity of play.”
Uzbekistan coach Nuraliyev said: “Croatia will be a tough match because they also want to qualify. We won’t just raise our hands to Croatia — we want to qualify and we want our players to start winning matches to prepare them for the second round.”
Elsewhere, Morocco coach Abdullah Al Edrissi has stated his intent to beat Uzbekistan to top spot with a convincing victory over Panama.
“It’s important to top the group in order to return to Fujairah [for the second round],” said Al Edrissi. “Also if we finish first we will play one of the third best sides from the other groups. I don’t think they will be as strong as, say, facing Brazil in the next round. It’s important we avoid the difficult teams and stay at our home venue.
“With Panama there will be the same tension as the last two matches so we will see what will happen.”
Panama coach Jorge Dely Valdes admitted his team’s chances of progression were slim.
“For us it is a very complicated situation,” he said. “Croatia, Morocco and Uzbekistan all already have three or more points and we have lost both our matches. Now the third match for us is really a life and death match that we have to win if we want to at least progress as one of the best third-placed teams.”