With a trio of teams in the hunt for Group B's two semi-final slots, it is set to be a thrilling conclusion to the 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship group stage on Saturday.
Even Ukraine, despite their chance of making the final four gone after defeats to Russia and Italy, still have the opportunity of gaining a top-three spot in the section, and with it qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Russia have headed the group from day one, and a draw will be enough to see them through in their final game against Italy. However, the loss of pacey forward Maksim Mayrovich has meant coach Dmitri Khomukha will be forced to shuffle his pack, and he is refusing to underestimate the second-placed Italians.
"They are really serious opposition, they have great footballing academies and rich traditions," said Khomukha. "They play very strong defensively, and just like Croatia, they too have some very strong individuals, so we must keep an eye on them. Maksim [Mayrovich]'s eye was almost completely shut after a collision against Croatia. It seems he has concussion and will likely not play again in the tournament."
The Azzurrini themselves will be a forward down in Nitra, with captain Alberto Cerri suspended after collecting bookings in his first two games. The win against Ukraine leaves Daniele Zoratto's side with destiny in their own hands, with a victory, or a score draw guaranteeing progress. "We have achieved our first objective, which was qualification for the World Cup," said the coach. "Now we are looking to reach our other goals, which is to make it to the semi-final and then the final."
Unlike Italy, Croatia must rely on results going their way elsewhere to have a hope of going through, and must win in Zlate Moravce to give themselves a chance. A victor in Nitra would open the door for Ivan Gudelj's side, who have yet to find the target. "We do not have much option, we will have to go out and attack. I will change our lineup a bit, try a more attacking formation. We have had plenty of chances but we could not score, we have to change that.
"Let us see what fate will bring us. Russia have left the best impression on me so far. If they defeat Italy and we beat Ukraine, we and Russia would go through and it would be a fitting outcome."
It is set to be no easy task however, with Ukraine being the better side for long spells in both games so far, despite defeat, and with the promise that a victory would secure a World Cup place. "Qualification for the World Cup is goal number one for us now," said coach Olexandr Holovko. "Croatia are one of the most interesting sides in this tournament. They have a lot of character and great individuals. I can say only good things about this team. But they do have weak spots, and we will try to use that."
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