Croatia have beaten Northern Ireland 3-0 in an international friendly at Windsor Park in Belfast on Tuesday night.
Juventus striker Mario Mandžukić led a Croatia minus eight first team regulars. Only defender Domagoj Vida, holding midfielder Milan Badelj and Mandžukić himself were retained from the starting line-up that beat Iceland in Zagreb on the weekend. There was also an international debut for Rijeka’s Filip Bradarić.
Northern Ireland also rested a number of players and were missing 6 players who featured in their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on Friday.
Whilst the hosts enjoyed more possession in the opening spell it was Croatia who took the lead in the 10th minute when captain Mandžukić bustled in a rebound after Mannus could not hold a shot from Duje Čop.
Croatia came close to doubling their lead in the 14th minute when Marin Leovac headed just wide following a good cross from the right from Andrej Kramarić.
Croatia did manage to get their second 20 minutes later however when Čop volleyed home a flick from Matej Mitrović at one of Croatia’s 4 corners of the half.
Croatia keeper Lovre Kalinić was rarely troubled in a first half which was controlled by the visitors.
Both sides made a number of substitutes in the second half and despite Northern Ireland reacting positively to the noisy Windsor Park crowd, they failed to create any real chances and force anything out of Kalinić.
Croatia made Northern Ireland pay for giving the ball away cheaply in the 68th minute when Kramarić unleashed from outside the box with a thunderbolt that Mannus could do nothing about to make it 3-0.
Croatia looked the more likey to score again as Čačić bought on 19-year-old Liverpool target Ante Ćorić, but there was to be no more goals in a match that would have pleased Croatia’s coach Ante Čačić.
Before the match Čačić said he would use the opportunity to have a look at a number of the second-sting players and he will be happy with what he saw, especially from Mitrović, Leovac Kramarić who was named Man of the Match.
Croatia’s next international is in March 2017 when they take on Ukraine in a 2018 World Cup qualifier.
NORTHERN IRELAND 0 – 3 CROATIA
International Friendly, Windsor Park
GOALS: Mandžukić ’10, Čop ’34, Kramarić ’68
NORTHERN IRELAND: Mannus – Boyce, Brunt, Evans, Hodson, Lund, Magennis, McAuley, McGinn, McNair, Norwood
CROATIA: Kalinić (Vargić ’82) – Leovac, Jedvaj, Mitrović, Vida (Vrsaljko ’60) – Bradarić, Badelj, Rog (Pivarić ’87) – Kramarić, Mandžukić (Ćorić ’72), Čop