Croatia clinched a place in the 2018 World Cup on Sunday after holding Greece to a goalless draw at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Athens to complete a 4-1 aggregate victory in their play-off tie.
Having done the hard work four days ago by winning 4-1 in the first leg in Zagreb, Zlatko Dalic’s team finished the job comfortably against a much-improved Greek team, who were full of attacking intent and tenacious tackling.
Despite the home side’s brave efforts, however, it was Croatia who came closest to scoring with Ivan Perišić hitting the post in the first half as the visitors deservedly qualified for next summer’s showpiece with the minimum of fuss.
No team has overturned a 4-1 first-leg deficit in a World Cup play-off, and that record was never in danger tonight, and the Croatians have now not lost a major tournament play-off match on any of their five occasions.
There were some flashes of danger from Michael Skibbe’s Greece side, but despite having more possession, chances were few and far between and they failed to test Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić until the 87th minute with Panagiotis Tachtsidis having his shot saved.
Skibbe shuffled his pack considerably, making six changes after their poor performance in the first leg – three of those changes came in defence with Giannis Maniatis, Giorgos Tzavellas, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos replaced by fit-again captain Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas and Panagiotis Retsos.
The changes, coupled with a vociferous home crowd, seemed to work as the hosts looked more competitive all over the park, tenacious in the tackle and chasing every lost cause.
Chances were at a premium, though, with a bouncing low shot on the edge of the area from Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ flashing past the post the best on offer.
And for all Greece’s enthusiastic and energetic play, Croatia always looked threatening when they managed to ge forward, with Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić and Mario Mandžukić all causing problems with their movement and slick passing.
And it was Inter Milan midfielder Perišić who came closest to a goal when his goalbound piledriver cannoned off Orestis Karnezis’ left post with the Greek keeper well beaten just before half-time.
Greece continued to try and chip away at Croatia but apart from Tachtsidis’ shot, the visitors held on comfortably to ease through.
By Graham Wood
Image Source: sportotal.gr
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