A valiant performance from Michael Skibbe’s Greece was enough to hold a strong Croatia side to a 0-0 draw in Athens last night in the second leg of their World Cup Qualifying Play-Off.
But, it all meant nothing in the grand scheme of things as Ante Cacic’s men were happy to sit on a three-goal lead in the overall tie and claim an eventual 4-1 aggregate victory to book a place at next summer’s World Cup Finals in Russia.
From the start at The Karaiskakis Stadium, the home Nation’s Germany Boss Skibbe decided on six changes to his side that were defeated 4-1 in Thursday’s first leg.
Coming into the starting Xl were Skipper Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas, Panagiotis Retsos, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, and Tasos Bakasetas, they replaced, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Georgios Tzavellas, Giannis Maniatis, Andreas Samaris, Kostas Stafylidis and Kostas Fortounis.
Meanwhile, Cacic made just one alteration from the resounding success of the first fixture in Zagreb as long-serving veteran Mario Mandzukic came in for former Leicester City man Andrej Kramaric.
Other big names in the Croatia side included Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, his Barcelona rival Ivan Rakitic and Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic.
After goals from Modric, Nikola Kalinic, Perisic and Kramaric had put The Blazers in pole position heading into the tie, on a chilly night in the Greek Capital, there were early wobbles for the visitors.
Defender Ivan Strinic had appeared to pull Zeca to the floor in the area by tugging on his Shirt and was lucky to get away with the offence as Referee Bjorn Kuipers gave a free-kick the other way.
Then, the first real opportunity of the tie as Borussia Dortmund defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos volleyed just wide from the edge of the box.
After a bright start from the home Nation had calmed down slightly, Perisic, one of the starts of EURO 2016, unleashed a thunderous strike that had Orestis Karnezis beaten and thudded off the post, the closest either side would come to scoring over the course of the 90 minutes.
However, Greece, to their credit, would remain fighting to the last and after danger man, Konstantinos Mitroglou had launched a low effort just wide, their other notable second-half moment, they had the ball in the back of the net.
But unfortunately, it wouldn’t count as Torosidis rolled the ball into the path of substitute Demetris Pelekas to finish simply, however, the flag was already up for the original ball summing up the tie for the Greek.
Their hopes of making it to a fourth World Cup were diminished in the first half of the fixture and they will have to wait until next autumn for their next taste of Competitive Football.
Meanwhile, there would celebrations at full-time for the Croats after reaching Russia having had an uncertain Qualification campaign and will have Friday December 1 in their Diaries as the day they will find out whom their Group Stage opponents will be come June.