Croa­tia cruised to a 4-1 vic­tory over Greece to move to the brink of a spot at next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia

Khaleej Times - - SPORT - AFP

paris — North­ern Ire­land coach Michael O’Neill said he was “stag­gered and be­wil­dered” by a con­tro­ver­sial penalty de­ci­sion which gave Switzer­land a 1-0 win in their World Cup play-off first leg on Thurs­day.

Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzer­land team dom­i­nated the match at a rain-swept Belfast but squan­dered a suc­ces­sion of chances.

The key mo­ment came with just over half an hour to go, when Xher­dan Shaqiri’s vol­ley was blocked by Corry Evans in the box and the ref­eree pointed to the spot, even though he ap­peared to have been hit on the shoul­der as he took eva­sive ac­tion.

Ri­cardo Ro­driguez made no mis­take from the penalty spot, send­ing goal­keeper Michael McGovern the wrong way as the visi­tors fi­nally made their su­pe­ri­or­ity count to put them in the driv­ing seat in the two-legged tie.

“The ref­eree has no-one in his line of sight,” fumed O’Neill who must now rally his team for Sun­day’s sec­ond leg in Basel.

“Corry’s arm isn’t in an un­nat­u­ral po­si­tion, it’s by his side. The ball hits him on the back more than any­thing. I thought the ref­eree had blown for a foul or an off­side. No­body had claimed for it.”

“I’m stag­gered by the de­ci­sion, stag­gered by the yel­low card but there’s noth­ing we can do about it now. There’s anger in the dress­ing room in there. They feel very ag­grieved about what’s hap­pened.”

In Za­greb, Croa­tia cruised to a 4-1 vic­tory over Greece to move to the brink of a spot at next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia.

Real Madrid mid­fielder Luka Mo­dric opened the scor­ing from the penalty spot in the 13th minute, af­ter Greek goal­keeper Orestis Karnezis brought down striker Nikola Kalinic.

Croa­tia dou­bled their lead six min­utes later when an un­marked Kalinic flicked in a low cross from Ivan Strinic. The visi­tors pulled one back on the half-hour mark when cap­tain Sokratis Pa­pas­tathopou­los scored a header from a cor­ner.

But just three min­utes later, a quick Croa­t­ian at­tack down the right flank ended with In­ter Mi­lan winger Ivan Perisic pow­er­ing home a close-range header at the back post.

An­drej Kra­maric tapped in to in­crease Croa­tia’s lead four min­utes af­ter half-time and leave Greece with it all to do in the re­turn fix­ture on Sun­day in Pi­raeus.

“It was a great match ... But this is only the first half, we should not re­lax. Noth­ing is over,” Croa­tia coach Zlatko Dalic told tele­vi­sion chan­nel HRT.

Dalic was named as coach in Oc­to­ber af­ter Ante Cacic was sacked fol­low­ing a dam­ag­ing 1-1 home draw with Fin­land, as the team ul­ti­mately fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing sec­ond to Ice­land in Group I.

“We played a great match. But we have only done half of the job, we should have a good rest and play a good match there (Greece) on Sun­day,” Mo­dric added.

“We could have scored more goals, but 4-1 is a great re­sult.” Croa­tia are look­ing to qual­ify for their fifth World Cup since 1998.

Pa­pas­tathopou­los la­belled the match a “hor­ri­ble night” for his team. “We made un­be­liev­able mis­takes, con­ceded too many goals which is not typ­i­cal of us at all,” he said.

“Af­ter this, it’s prac­ti­cally 90 per­cent likely that we will not go to the World Cup.”

On Fri­day, four-time World Cup win­ners Italy take on Swe­den at Solna while Sat­ur­day sees the Repub­lic of Ire­land trav­el­ling to Copen­hagen to face Den­mark. —


Croa­tia’s Ivan Perisic scores a goal against Greece dur­ing the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier in Za­greb. —

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