Croatia confident, Greece poised
UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group F leaders Croatia travel to Tbilisi on Saturday to play Georgia, knowing three points are necessary to guarantee their lead at the top of the group. Greece are currently two points behind and travel to Malta, who have yet to pick up a point.
Now managed by Temuri Ketsbaia, Georgia are undefeated in nine games under the former Newcastle striker. Despite this, Croatia coach Slaven Bilic is confident. "We are a better side with more quality than Georgia so we will win this," he said.
Croatia have a fully-fit squad to choose from, which includes the likes of Tottenham's Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar, as well as Sevilla's in-form Ivan Rakitic, who scored his side's winner against Valencia at the Mestalla last Sunday. The only notable omission is that of Wolfsburg midfielder Mario Mandzukic.
Georgia are without Malkhaz Asatiani, who has been omitted while he finds a club. Striker Nikoloz Gelashvili is a late addition to the squad, and midfielder Aleksandr Koshkadze replaces Spartak Moscow's Jano Ananidze, who is injured.
If Croatia fail to beat Georgia, Greece could replace them at the top of Group F. Despite their opponents' failure to pick up a point, Greece coach Fernando Santos is taking nothing for granted. He said: "We have to win in Malta. We are favourites, but it won't be easy. We need to be focused and prove our superiority on the pitch."
Panagiotis Lagos has been recalled to the squad after injuries to Michalis Sifakis, Grigoris Makos and Nikos Spyropoulos. He can play in the left-back or left wing-back positions.
Malta, buoyed by a friendly draw against Switzerland in February, will have English-based Daniel Bogdanovic up front, along with captain and former Coventry striker, Michael Mifsud.
The other game in Group F sees fourth play fifth, as Israel take on Latvia in Tel Aviv, with both needing a win to remain in touch with the group leaders. Israel, who were defeated 1-0 at home by Latvia in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, have called up Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who has not played since September.
Coach Luis Fernandez could hand international debuts to striker David Biton and 18-year-old left-back Talb Tawatha. Latvia will be without the suspended Oskars Klava, but Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs will be able to call on the fit-again Deniss Kacanovs. CSKA Moscow midfielder Aleksandrs Cauna is injured, with Ivans Lukjanovs replacing him.