Croatia moved one step closer to the 2018 Russian World Cup after a 4-1 drubbing win over Greece in their play-off fixture in front of ecstatic home fans.
Nikola Kalinic won a penalty for Croatia’s opening goal thanks to a clumsy move from the Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis, which was then taken and converted scored by the captain, Luka Modric.
An unmarked Kalinic then netted the second through a tap-in to give the home side a 2-0 lead at Maksimir Stadium, before Sokratis Papastathopoulos’s headed goal seemingly gave the visitors a lifeline by pulling one back for Greece.
However, Ivan Perisic was able to make it 3-1 for Croatia with a thumping close-range header of his own in an action-packed first half, and Andrej Kramaric then merely rounded off the result by scoring Croatia’s fourth shortly after the break, poking the ball in from two metres after Sime Vrsaljko had cut out a poor back pass.
The result meant that Croatia a three-goal advantage, leaving Greece with a huge task on home soil in Sunday’s second leg, with only a 3-0 win capable of sending them through to the World Cup. However, Croatian national coach Zlatko Dalic remains cautious of Greece’s chances to get back in the game.
Dalic, who was appointed a month ago in place of sacked coach Ante Cacic, said: “We must root out any complacency immediately and head to Greece as if the score was 0-0.”
“The basic idea was to raid them on both flanks and the strategy worked. I am not happy with the goal we conceded but in the end it’s a very good result.”
While this was only Dalic’s second game in charge after overseeing a 2-0 win in Ukraine to secure a play-off spot, his side are now close to reaching back-to-back World Cups.