Niko Kovač won't be thrilled with his side's showing during his first game in charge. It was meant to be simple for Croatia -- go to Reykjavik, pick up all three points, then celebrate at home after beating Iceland once more. Instead, Iceland proved to be a rather formidable opponent.
The first half got off to a lively start when Eduardo latched on to the end of a through ball from Mario Mandzukic, but his shot went wide. Iceland responded in much the same manner, with a fast break allowing Alfred Finnbogaso to get on the end of a ball from Birkir Bjarnason. Croatia were up to the challenge, however, and the shot was deflected out for a corner.
And then things sort of fizzled out. Croatia kept up the pressure, but Iceland were perfectly organized. The visitors found no way through the tight defensive lines. Croatia's best chance came in the 40th minute, after a rare defensive flutter let Ivan Perisic get in a shot. It still wasn't a good one though, and Hannes Thór Halldórsson was able to easily gather the low shot.
Iceland's defense meant it was skill rather than luck that enabled them to withstand Croatia's attack and escape the first half unscathed. But, as the second half began, it looked as though luck was about to play a part. First, Ajax forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson was replaced by 35-year-old Eidur Gudjohnsen, thanks to an injury picked up late in the first half. Then Olafur Skulason was shown a straight red card for a challenge on Perisic, reducing the hosts to just 10 men.
Darijo Srna stepped up to take the resulting free kick, awarded just outside the area. The Croatia captain let fly with one of his trademark shots, curving up and over the Iceland wall, but the impressive Halldórsson reached up to deny the goal.
And that was pretty much how the rest of the match went. With the man-advantage, Croatia kept applying the pressure. And with no real desire to do much more than hang on for a point, Iceland were able to stay organized and get all bodies behind the ball. When a shot did wiggle its way through the defense, Halldórsson wasted no time in stifling it. Just how long will he be staying at FK Reykjavik?
Iceland did manage to get in a close call, about 10 minutes before the end of the match. Johann Berg Gudmundsson set up Rurik Gislason, but the shot was blocked. Immediately after Gislason won a free kick, but ultimately nothing came of the "spell" of Icelandic pressure.
Iceland: Hannes Halldorsson; Ari Skulason, Kari Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Olafur Skulason; Johann Gudmundsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson, Birkir Bjarnason; Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Alfred Finnbogason