There will be increased security at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on Friday, when Croatia host Serbia in a World Cup Qualifier that marks the first meeting between the two nations following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The two nations were engaged in a bloody war in the 1990s, and have a long history of conflict. According to the Associated Press, Croatia has tightened security along the stadium and on the Serbian border. Serbian fans are banned from traveling to the match based on an agreement between the two countries' football federations.
"Support us with your love for us and not with your hatred for our opponent," said Croatia coach Igor Stimac, in an appeal to Croatian supporters. "We are feeling tensions, but only because of the importance of the game. This is a football match and not a war. Let the better team win."
"We'll try to enjoy playing the match,” said Serbian coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. “After all, football is only a game."
"Tactical preparation for the match in Zagreb is no different and should not be different in relation to the preparation of other games," said Serbia midfielder Radosav Petrovic, according to Sky Sports.
Both squads have some notable names on their roster.
Serbia have among the best group of defenders in Europe, led by Premier League stars Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea, as well as Aleksander Kolarov and Matija Nastasic of Manchester City. Making up the back four will be an equally accomplished defender in Borussia Dortmund’s Neven Subotic. Going forward, former Manchester United winger Zoran Tosic will help lead a formidable attack, while striker Filip Djordjevic has been in good goal-scoring form for Nantes In Ligue 2.
Croatia have one of the most prominent playmakers in the world in Luka Modric, though he has been used sparingly by Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. Modric will be relied upon to find goal-scoring chances for a pair of high-profile Bundesliga forwards. Veteran Ivica Olic has given some strong efforts for Wolfsburg, while Mario Mandzukic has scored 15 goals in 21 league appearances in his first season at Bayern Munich.
Croatia are in second place in Group A with 10 points and six points ahead of third-placed Serbia. Croatia trail Belgium on goal difference.
D: Srna, Corluka, Simunic, Strinic,
M: Rakitic, Modric, Vukojevic, Kranjcar,
F: Mandzukic, Olic
D: Ivanovic, Subotic, Nastasic, Kolarov
M: Tosic, Tadic, Radovanovic, Petrovic
Betting Odds: Croatia are 4/5 to get the victory with Bet 365. A draw is priced at 5/2, with a Serbia victory available at 9/2.
Prediction: There won’t be many hard fouls, as the referee will likely call a tight game. Expect Croatia to put intense pressure on goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, and for Serbia to employ a counter-attack strategy. Modric should be in fine form after gaining some confidence with a memorable goal against Manchester United in the Champions League.
Croatia 1 – 1 Serbia
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 1 p.m. ET. A live stream will be available on ESPN3.