A first half goal from stand-in captain Mario Mandžukić has helped Croatia to a 1-0 win over Finland in their Group I 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Tempere on Sunday…
Croatia, who made one change from their 6-0 win over Kosovo on Thursday with Rijeka defender Mate Mitrović coming in for the injured Vedran Ćorluka, started how they left off three days ago, controlling possession from the outset.
Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovačić and Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozović saw a lot of the ball early on as Croatia looked to carve out an opening for the front pair of Mario Mandžukić and Andrej Kramarić.
Croatia did not have to wait long for the opening to come and it was the hat-trick hero from Thursday night who was the man to do it in the 18th minute. A fantastic cross from the right from Šime Vrsaljko found Kramarić unmarked at the back post and he managed to knock it first time past the Finland keeper to leave captain Mandžukić with the simplest of tasks to head home from right on the line.
The goal was Mandžukić’s 28th goal for Croatia and leaves him one goal behind Eduardo da Silva as Croatia’s second highest goal-scorer of all time behind Davor Šuker (45).
After a bright opening half an hour Croatia started to lose a bit of cohesion and failed to create any further chances in the half. At the other end Croatia keeper Danijel Subašić did not have much work to do in the first spell as Finland failed to unleash a shot on target or threaten the Croatia goal.
Croatia had the first chance of the second spell when Brozović nearly flicked in a cross right the right from Mandžukić’ in the 48th minute. After 60 minutes Finland started to look threatening for the first time in match as they put pressure on the Croatian defence and Subašić with a couple of dangerous crosses in succession.
The crowd was now behind the home side as they continued to put pressure on and search for an equaliser but Croatia’s centre-back pairing of Domagoj Vida and Mitrović were equal to the task.
In the 75th minute Croatia came close to doubling the lead when Perišić broke free down the right, cut inside to beat his man and fired a shot which crashed into the post. Four minutes later Finland’s keeper was drawn on to make a save when substitute Duje Čop shot from inside the box. Čop again came close to scoring in the 83rd minute but a fine save from Hradecky denied him and the score would remain 1-0 till the end. Croatia had 62% possession in the match and had nine attempts with five on target. Finland failed to have a shot on target all match.
Croatia coach Ante Čačić will be happy to return from the short road trip missing four first team regulars with 6 points in the bag, and remain at the top of Group I. Croatia’s next qualifier is in Zagreb on 12 November against Iceland.
FINLAND 0 – 1 CROATIA
2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier, Group I
GOALS: Mandžukić 18′
FINLAND: Hradecky – Raitala, Ojala, Arajuuri, Väisänen – Arkivuo, Ring, Moisander, Lod, Saksela – Pukki
CROATIA: Subašić – Vrsaljko, Mitrović, Vida, Pivarić – Badelj, Kovačić – Brozović (Čop ’71), Perišić – Kramarić (Rog ’79), Mandžukić (Kalinić ’87)