Croatia 1-0 Russia: Fyodor Kudryashov own goal sees 2018 runners-up seal Qatar place as opponents now face playoff
UEFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying, Stadion Poljud: Croatia 1 (Kudryashov OG 81’), Russia 0.
Croatia's Josip Brekalo (L) and Andrej Kramaric celebrate a goal in a 2022 FIFA World Cup Group H Qualifying Round football match against Russia at Poljud Stadium. Sergei Bobylev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
A late Fyodor Kudryashov own goal saw Croatia leapfrog Russia in Group H to secure a 1-0 victory and seal their place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
In a scrappy contest played on a waterlogged pitch, Croatia had the lions share of possession in a must-win game, and eventually broke down a resolute Russian defence unintentionally as Kudryashov comically turned the ball into his own net in the 81st minute.
The result means Croatia top Group H on 23 points with Russia having to settle for a playoff spot in second on 22.
Croatia dominated possession and had the best chances in a cagey first half. The first of note landed to Andrej Kramaric in the tenth minute, but his free header landed into the grateful arms of Matvei Safonov.
The hosts continued to pile on the pressure with the rain unrelenting. In the 24th minute, Ivan Perisic's header at the far post flew over the bar moments before Marcelo Brozovic had two attempts from range to force Safonov into smart diving saves.
Croatia pushed Russia deeper into their own half after the break and came closest to scoring in the 48th minute when Mario Pasalic met a Josip Juranovic cross, but his header was excellently batted away by Safonov.
Amid the torrid conditions, puddles formed on the pitch and it looked like Croatia would not find a way through as players were losing their footing.
But in the final ten minutes, the 2018 World Cup runners-up got the slice of luck they deserved when Kudryashov attempted to clear a cross into the six-yard box, but ended up turning the ball into his own net to the delight of the noisy home support.
TALKING POINT - Croatia deserved their luck in the rain
Croatia were the only team trying to play a game of football as they produced 20 shots on goal amid torrid, bordering on farcical, conditions at Stadion Poljud.
With the game descending into a match of water polo at times, Russia defended well, but they failed to register a shot on goal and were content to play for a point against a Croatia side who kept on pushing for an all-important winner.
Croatia's goal was undoubtedly fortunate, but the victory was a deserved one.
Croatia's players celebrate a goal in a 2022 FIFA World Cup Group H Qualifying Round football match against Russia at Poljud Stadium. Sergei Bobylev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH - Matvei Safonov
The Russia goalkeeper pulled off six saves and his team-mates can thank him for keeping the crunch contest as a low scoring match.
Safonov's saves to deny Brozovic in the first half and Pasalic in the second were two of the rare moments of quality in a game badly affected by heavy rain.
10' - CHANCE! Vlasic's cross finds Kramaric in the centre of the box, he gets in between the two centre backs, but his free header is caught by Safonov! That was a great opportunity for Croatia to take the lead!
24' - CLOSE! A cross into the box is punched clear by Safonov out to Brozovic around 30-yards out. He attempts an audacious strike looking for the top corner but it's just wide! It's a great effort from the Inter Milan midfielder!
28' - ANOTHER CROATIA CHANCE! Brozovic wins a corner off Dzhikiya. Modric plays it short and Brozovic again shoots from range, this time from 25-yards out, but a sprawling save from Safonov keeps him at bay!
48' - WHAT A SAVE! It is a crucial save from Safonov to deny Pasalic! Juranovic's cross into the box is nodded on goal, but the goalkeeper makes a fine reflex save! That's the best chance of the match so far!
81' - OWN GOAL!! It's a nightmare for Kudryashov! He turns the ball into his own net! A cross to the back post deflects off the defender into the bottom corner! Croatia lead! As it stands, they are progressing straight to the World Cup!