Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Croatia eyes World Cup spot with 4-1 win over Greece

Mario Mandzukic Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic has scored four goals for his club this season
Melinda Barton | 10 November, 2017, 04:11

Another mistake that the Greek defense made under pressure came from a Croatian team effort that led to the fourth goal from the home team.

Croatia took a decisive step toward World Cup qualification Thursday, overwhelming Greece for a 4-1 victory in the first leg of their playoff. But the Greek defense crumbled against Croatia on Thursday.

Despite being without Mario Mandzukic, who was only fit enough for a seat on the bench due to a hamstring strain, the hosts cruised to victory on a cold night in Zagreb, putting them within touching distance of a place at the finals in Russian Federation next year.

The Republic of Ireland managed to qualify due to their last match against Wales, thanks to a goal from James McClean, which was enough to secure the win and a place in the draw.

Sokratis put Greece back in the picture at the half hour mark by converting a corner kick with his head, but 3 minutes later another cross, this time by Sime Vrsaljko, connected with the red hot Ivan Perisic.

The game started off with a bang and Croatia came out hungry for the win.

It was 2-0 in the 19th minute when Kalinic used his heel to turn in Ivan Strinic's low cross. The last time Greece allowed four goals in a competitive match was in 2012, a 4-2 defeat to Germany in the Euros.

Kalinic celebrates Croatia's second goal.

The Inter Milan winger headed home at the far post from close range as he latched on to Sime Vrsaljko's flawless cross.

Greece's issues were all of their own making, with any plan to keep the tie close ahead of the return leg disappearing when they gave away two avoidable goals in the opening 20 minutes. The Greeks have tried to be a bit more offensive in recent years and in fact scored 17 goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers coming in (two more than Croatia). Now one who has seen the Greek national side do close to the impossible over the years might say that it's not over, but it was hard not to be impressed with the Croats, who also boast a significantly better squad.

Croatia has missed the World Cup only once since becoming a nation of their own, and while they're not quite at the glorious level of the 1998 World Cup squad that finished in third place, many feel that this could be the best Croatia team since then.