Croatia stroll past Greece and into finals
World Cup play-off, Stadio Karaiskaki - Greece 0 Croatia 0 (Croatia win 4-1 on aggregate)
Croatia strolled into the finals of the World Cup after a 0-0 draw in Greece handed them a 4-1 aggregate victory in their play-off.
The first leg deficit was always going to be tough to overcome but the home side didn’t even make a dent in the lead as Luka Modric and Co sealed their place in Russia.
Michael Skibbe made six changes to his team and although they were improved from the first leg, Greece simply did not have enough of an attacking threat to cause Croatia problems as the game fizzled out to a draw.
The hosts initially made a bright start to the game and had a credible appeal for a penalty waved away when Zeca went to ground under the challenge of Ivan Strinic.
Despite their tenacious efforts Greece lacked quality going forward and they didn’t register a shot on target until the 86th minute when Panagiotis Tachtsidis had his effort comfortably saved.
In fact it was the visitors who came closest to scoring as Ivan Perisic smashed the post with a venomous effort from distance on the stroke of half-time.
There were muted celebrations for Croatia – the 28th team to qualify for Russia 2018 – at the final whistle as travelling away supporters were banned from the stadium. They will find out their group and opponents when the draw takes place on 1st December at the Kremlin.
TALKING POINT - Croatia to impress at Russia?
Croatia’s best qualities weren’t on show as Zlatko Dalic took the pragmatic approach by holding players back to protect the three-goal lead accrued last time out. That is understandable, but the purists will be licking their lips at the thought of Croatia reverting to type for the World Cup next summer.
When at their best, the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic and Sime Vrsaljko possess the qualities to endanger any side in world football. How far can they go in the tournament? Dalic will be hoping to reach the knockout stages, at the very least.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia)
The Atletico Madrid right-back constantly provided support when his team formed an attack but he also worked tirelessly to provide defensive cover.
Greece-Croatia - FIFA 2018 World Cup play-off - Getty ImagesGetty Images
11’ - PENALTY SHOUT! And a valid one, too. Bakasetas' delivers a cross to the back post for Zeca who is brought to the ground under the challenge of Strinic. The referee waves away the protests, but the replay shows Greece had a strong case.
42’ - OFF THE POST! Perisic rifles an effort at goal from 25 yards which thumps the woodwork! The goalkeeper was well beaten.
Greece's Kostas MitroglouReuters
79’ - GOAL RULED OUT! Torosidis flicks the ball at goal from Tachstidis's shot with Subasic making the save and Pelkas slotting in from the rebound, but it won't count - offside.
86’ - FINALLY! A shot on target! Croatia fail to clear the free-kick and it is set up for Tachtsidis whose first-time effort is comfortably saved by Subasic.
Croatia qualify for their fifth major finals via the play-offs.