Croatia eyes World Cup spot with 4-1 win over Greece

Mario Mandzukic

The performance of the evening came at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, as Croatia scored three times in the first half to ease past Greece.

Kalinic celebrates Croatia's second goal.

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russian Federation next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.

The World Cup Playoff matches in Europe have begun, with Croatia and Switzerland taking huge leads to carry into the second legs.

Croatia doubled their lead six minutes later after a swift passing move, flicks and flair included - and while Sokratis Papastathopoulos did pull one back with a header after half an hour, Ivan Perisic nodded in to restore their two-goal advantage soon after.

However, having worked so hard to grab an away goal, Michael Skibbe's side conceded again within five minutes, Sime Vrsaljko's deep cross from the right presenting Perisic with the simple task of nodding the ball in. But despite that, Zlatko Dalic knows that his side's job is far from over and that the second leg will be equally important.

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The 51-year-old Bosnian-born Dalic stepped in for the unpopular and uncharismatic Ante Cacic after the Croatians slipped from first to third in their group and oversaw a 2-0 win over Ukraine which lifted them into the playoffs.

Andrej Kramaric scored Croatia's fourth shortly after the break, poking the ball in from two metres after Vrsaljko had cut out a poor back pass.

Over 90 minutes, the Croats dominated possession and had nine shots on goal compared to Greece's three.

The Blazers have a very talented squad featuring players like Mandzukic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

The momentum of the game shifted, however, towards the 30-minute mark.

This was a hugely convincing and impressive win for Croatia in a game that never really promised an attractive score line. A solid defensive performance in Athens on Sunday will send Zlatko Dalic's side to Russian Federation, and this result has put them in pole position to secure the coveted spot. It will take a gargantuan effort in Athens, as well as a complete turnaround in attacking threat and defensive solidity, for Greece to stand any chance of making it to the World Cup.

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