Croatia has extended its lead at the top of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying UEFA Group I after a 1-0 win over Ukraine in front of 27,300 fans at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb on Friday night.
The match was the first home qualifier Croatia had played in front of a crowd at Maksimir stadium since 28 March 2015, when Niko Kovač led Croatia to a 5-1 win over Norway in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Ante Čačić, who has favoured playing with one specialist striker, started with both Mario Mandžukić, and the in-form Nikola Kalinić, with Mandžukić starting wide on the left.
After a quiet opening five minutes Ukraine created the first half-chance in the 8th minute but when Yarmolenko got in behind Pivarić down the left and squared the ball back from the byline there were noUkraine player in the box.
Croatia had their first real chance three minutes later when an out-stretched Kalinić could only hit a cross from Luka Modrić wide.
Croatia should have taken the lead in the 15th minute when Mandžukić disposed the Ukrainian defender to put himself one on with with the keeper Pyatov. His shot however could only hit the post.
Kalinić then two minutes later was found unmarked in the box, but he could only direct his header over the bar.
The match went from end to end in the opening 30 minutes as both Pyatov and Subašić had work to do.
In the 33rd minute Croatia had another golden chance to go ahead. A lovely ball from Modrić put Pivarić through in the box, and when his cross was blocked it fell for Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitić who could only blast high and wide.
Croatia finally took the lead in the 38th minute when some nice play on the edge of the box found Kalinić who turned and fired past Pyatov.
Whilst the first half was full of action and chances, the second half failed to start in the same fashion as Croatia, who controlled possession, and Ukraine could penetrate in the final third of the pitch.
Led by Domagoj Vida, who plys his trade in the Ukraine at Dynamo Kyiev, Croatia’s inexperienced back-four were up to anything Ukraine threw at them.
Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovačić was injected into the game in the final 15 minutes as Croatia looked for a second goal, but he unable to find a spark.
Croatia would have been disappointed that they could not kill the game off in the second half, but Čačić would have been happy with the defensive effort led by Vida.
For Croatia Vida, Badelj and Modrić were impressive, whilst Kalinić looked dangerous with the limited opportunities he had up front.
Croatia next face Estonia in a friendly away in Tallin on 28 March.
2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying: Group I
Maksimir stadium, Zagreb
Croatia 1-0 Ukraine
GOALS: Kalinić 38′
CROATIA: Danijel Subašić, Domagoj Vida, Josip Pivarić, Tin Jedvaj, Matej Mitrović, Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić (Kovačić 77′), Milan Badelj, Marcelo Brozović (Marko Rog 90′), Mario Mandžukić, Nikola Kalinić (Andrej Kramarić 87′)
UKRAINE: Andriy Pyatov, Bohdan Butko, Ivan Ordets, Mykola Matviyenko, Olexandr Kucher, Taras Stepanenko, Andriy Yarmolenko, Artem Kravets (Salenznyov 58′), Yevhen Konoplyanka, Ruslan Rotan (Sydorchuck 75′), Viktor Kovalenko (Besedin 85′)