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Croatia on cusp of finals after hammering sloppy Greece

Croatia on cusp of finals after hammering sloppy Greece

09/11/2017 at 16:47Updated 09/11/2017 at 23:09

World Cup Qualification, Play-off First Leg, Maksimir - Croatia 4 (Modric P 13', Kalinic 19', Perisic 33', Kramaric 49') Greece 1 (Sokratis 30')

Croatia took advantage of some lacklustre Greek defending to gain a commanding lead in the first leg of their World Cup play-off.

Croatia captain Luka Modric opened the scoring from the spot when Nikola Kalinic was taken out in the box by Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Kalinic then doubled the lead when he produced a clever flick to the turn the ball in from Ivan Strinic's cross. Greece briefly made the game interesting when captain Sokratis Papastathopoulos headed home from a corner.

Nikola Kalinic (L) of Croatia scores a goal past goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis (C) of Greece during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia

Nikola Kalinic (L) of Croatia scores a goal past goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis (C) of Greece during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, CroatiaGetty Images

However, they let themselves down as first they allowed Ivan Perisic to drift to the back post to head home Sime Vrsaljko's cross and then, after the break, Kostas Stafylidis tried to chest the ball back to the keeper only to get it wrong and let Andrej Kramaric in to score.

It leaves Croatia in a commanding position ahead of the second-leg, particularly given Greece's general lack of goals.

TALKING POINT

Greece left themselves down. Croatia were good, and they're normally fun to watch going forward, but they're not going to have too many games as easy as this. Every single goal was poor from Greece in some way: the back-pass to Karnezis for the penalty, letting Kalinic and then Perisic to go free and then the shambolic chest from Stafylidis. Combine with that with two separate occasions when Kostas Mitroglou squared the ball into the six-yard box only to look up and see that there was no-one there. This was always going to be tough for Greece but they didn't help themselves.

Head coach Michael Skibbe (C) of Greece reacts during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia

Head coach Michael Skibbe (C) of Greece reacts during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, CroatiaGetty Images

MAN OF THE MATCH

Luka Modric (Croatia) The Real Madrid midfielder hasn't started the season brilliantly but this was one of his expert performances. He ran the game from the heart of midfield, dictating play and bursting forward to support the attack when needed. His composure when taking the penalty, after a fairly lengthy delay, also must be praised given how it got his team off to the perfect start.

Luka Modric (R) of Croatia is challenged by Zeca (L) of Greece during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia

Luka Modric (R) of Croatia is challenged by Zeca (L) of Greece during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, CroatiaGetty Images

PLAYER RATINGS

Croatia - Subasic 5, Vrsaljko 7, Lovren 5, Vida 6, Strinic 7, Brozovic 5, Rakitic 6, Modric 8, Perisic 7, Kramaric 7, Kalinic 7. Subs: Rebic 5, Vlasic 5, Pasalic 5.

Greece - Karnezis 4, Maniatis 4, Papadopoulos 4, Sokratis 5, Tzavellas 4, Tziolis 4, Samaris 5, Fortounis 5, Zeca 4, Stafylidis 3, Mitroglou 5.

KEY MOMENTS

13' - GOAL! CROATIA 1-0 GREECE (MODRIC) That's really good from Modric. There was a big delay before taking the penalty as the referee debated making Karnezis change his shirt due to blood. However he keeps his cool, waits for Karnezis to dive, and slots it the other way.

19' - GOAL! CROATIA 2-0 GREECE (KALINIC) Greece have let themselves down here. Strinic is under little pressure as he bursts down the left and he crosses it to Kalinic who incredibly has wondered into all sorts of space. Kalinic produces a lovely little touch to turn it in.

30' - GOAL! CROATIA 2-1 GREECE (SOKRATIS) Game on! Greece are back in it and the captain has got it! Fortounis swings the ball to the back post and Sokratis heads it to the far corner. Brozović can't stop it on the line.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Greece celebrates scoring a goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia

Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Greece celebrates scoring a goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Croatia and Greece at Stadion Maksimir on November 9, 2017 in Zagreb, CroatiaGetty Images

33' - GOAL! CROATIA 3-1 GREECE (PERISIC) Another goal, another example of terrible defending from Greece. Vrsaljko plays it from the right to the back post and Perisic is completely unmarked and heads it into the empty net.

49' - GOAL! CROATIA 4-1 GREECE (KRAMARIC) Oh my that is poor. Rakitic gets some space and tries to clip it over the back line to Vrsaljko but Stafylidis reads it. However then he gets it all wrong. He tries to chest it back to the keeper but it's way too light and Vrsaljko nips in and knocks it past Karnezis. Kramaric is there to sweep it home. The worst possible start for Greece.

KEY STATS

Croatia completed 456 passes compared to Greece's 278.

Croatia (18) had over twice as many shots as Greece (7).

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