Luka Modric is pleased with Croatia’s start to 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying but has warned his team-mates there’s still a lot of work to do. A Marcelo Brozovic brace earned a 2-0 victory over Iceland on Saturday that left Ante Cacic’s side on ten points from a possible 12 in Group I. Croatia will, therefore, finish the year top, two points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland.

“The most important thing was that we won a tough game,” said Modric. “We’re happy to finish our competitive year on a high. We can now wait serenely until spring.

“The first part of our qualifying campaign was played at a high level, and the only damage was the two points dropped against Turkey. We deserved them that day, but the ball just wouldn’t go in. We did well against Iceland – we worked hard and kept our concentration.

“However, the World Cup is still a long way off. We have a lot of tough games ahead, both home and away. Nothing has been decided. We have to keep working and playing in the same vein.”

Windsor date
While Modric, who recently returned from knee surgery, will return to Real Madrid, Croatia round out 2016 with a friendly in Belfast on Tuesday. Northern Ireland have not lost at home in over three years, since a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick propelled Portugal to a 4-2 comeback victory at Windsor Park in Brazil 2014 qualifying. Thereafter, they have gone nine games unbeaten in front of their own fans, winning the last six.

“The Iceland examination has been successfully resolved, so we’ll travel to Belfast in a good mood,” said Cacic. “We’re taking 16 players, intending to play a good game.

“Every game is important, and this one can give many answers about players who have been less involved in the national-team games. Some are with me for the first time, and some will get an opportunity to get a real, competitive test.

“I have no doubt that Croatia are a challenge to anyone, including Northern Ireland, who are on an undefeated streak on their own turf. We will do everything to break the run.”

Croatia have qualified for four of the five World Cups they have attempted to, with captain Zvonimir Boban and adidas Golden Boot winner Davor Suker inspiring them to bronze at France 1998.