Croatia virtually guaranteed their spot in next summers World Cup after a comprehensive victory in Zagreb over Michael Skibbe’s Greece.
The Croatian’s took full advantage of some comical Greek defending and found themselves in front after just 13 minutes when Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis gifted the hosts a penalty kick. Karnezis’ clumsy first touch was the catalyst for what was to follow and his subsequent failure to clear the ball effectively led to him bringing down the forward giving the referee no option but to point to the spot.
Up stepped Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, he kept his nerve, found the bottom corner and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to put the Croat’s in front. It wasn’t long before the Greek defence came under further examination, Milan forward Nikola Kalinic found himself totally unmarked inside the 6 yard box just 6 minutes later and his smart finish doubled the Croatia lead. The Greeks managed to claw themselves back into the contest on the half-hour mark when Sokratis Papastathopoulos rose highest to header home from a corner. A potentially crucial away goal, the momentum with the away side and the mood in the Maksimir Stadium had noticeably changed. Fortunately for the home supporters it only took the hosts 3 minutes to restore their two goal advantage, Manchester United target Ivan Perisic profiting from some laughable defending to header home on 33 minutes.
It seemed as though the Greeks, normally so defensively reliable had saved all their individual errors for tonight. Konstantinos Stafylidis of Augsburg in Germany saw to it that any hope of qualification disappeared shortly after the break. His attempt to chest the ball back to his keeper went horribly wrong and unfortunately for him and his teammates Sime Vrsaljko was on hand to intercept and square the ball to Kramaric for an easy finish.
I want to praise Croatia and they’re undoubtedly a side with a great deal of quality but the Greeks will feel they gifted the victory to their opponents. Comical defending and their inability to cause any threat of their own leaves them destined for elimination. A Greek tragedy you could say.
Sunday’s second leg in Athens if at least nothing else poses an opportunity for the Greeks to restore some pride. Croatia have not lost a competitive fixture by a 3 goal margin since 2009 and so any sort of fight back would be a tall order. Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic took charge of the side for only the second time and barring a major disaster his 4th game in charge will be when he leads his nation out in a world cup finals.