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Iceland coach Lars Lagerbäck said his side "still have a chance" after surviving 40 minutes with ten men to earn a goalless draw against Croatia in the first leg of their FIFA World Cup play-off.
Iceland were posing real problems to their visitors in Reykjavik before Ólafur Skúlason's dismissal soon after the interval turned the game on its head. From then on it was all Croatia, the Balkan team laying siege to the Iceland goal but they could not find a way past keeper Hannes Halldórsson so will start again at 0-0 in Zagreb on Tuesday.
The first half had a very different rhythm, with Iceland keeping their opponents pegged back without really creating clear openings. Croatia seemed content to soak up the pressure and hit on the break, but changed tack at the beginning of the second period as they wrested control and Iceland soon cracked, Skúlason seeing a straight red after bringing down Ivan Perišić.
It was the cue for Niko Kovač's charges to take a firmer grip on proceedings but Iceland, and Halldórsson in particular, held firm. "We can be happy about the result, especially bearing in mind that we were a man down for so long. We would have taken the draw," said Eidur Gudjohnsen, a half-time replacement for the injured Kolbeinn Sigurthórsson. "Keeping a clean sheet was very important."
There were 19 players a yellow card away from a ban this evening but all avoided a booking, so both sides will be almost at full strength when they meet again in four days' time. Skúlason will, of course, be suspended but Iceland coach Lagerbäck welcomes back Birkir Sævarsson from a similar sanction.
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