World Cup playoffs: Luka Modric leads Croatia to rout, Swiss with away win | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 09.11.2017
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World Cup playoffs: Luka Modric leads Croatia to rout, Swiss with away win

A Luka Modric goal set Croatia on their way to a convincing 4-1 win over Greece and allowed his side to plant one foot in World Cup 2018. Switzerland can also start thinking of Russia after winning in Northern Ireland.

Croatia 4-1 Greece
(Modric 13', Kalinic 19', Perisic 33', Kramaric 49' - Sokratis 30')

A scintillating first half display gave Croatia a commanding first leg advantage in the battle of the playoff specialists. Home captain Luka Modric gave his side the lead from the spot early on, after Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis took a heavy touch on a backpass before chopping down Nikola Kalinic.

The Croats, who have won all four of their past qualifying playoffs for major tournaments, looked confident and were rewarded just six minutes later when Kalinic flicked in a low left wing cross after some lovely build up play.

Greece's reply came through their own skipper, when Borussia Dortmund's Sokratis looped a header over the Croatian keeper from a corner against the run of play. But Croatia soon restored their lead with another slick team move that ended with Ivan Perisic nodding home at the back post from a right wing cross.

The momentum they'd regained stayed with Croatia after the break as more shambolic Greek defending led to a fourth. Augsburg's Kostas Stafylidis attempted to chest back to Karnezis but left it well short, allowing Sime Vrslajko to nip in and intecept before Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric stabbed home.

Croatia had chances to put the tie out of reach, Perisic blazing over after a sublime Modric through ball but, based on Thursday's showing, they should have more than enough to qualify for a fifth straight World Cup.

Northern Ireland 0-1 Switzerland
(Rodriguez 58')

Switzerland's players celebrate in their playoff against Northern Ireland (Reuters/J. Cairnduff)

Switzerland's players celebrate the penalty scored by Ricardo Rodriguez (13)

An altogether more forgettable affair was settled by a moment of controversy.

The Swiss were dominant in the first half, but despite a couple of presentable chances for Haris Seferović, had nothing to show for it as Northern Ireland's defense -  which kept seven clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches - held firm.

In fact, it took a highly dubious call from the referee to breach them, when Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled the ball with his back to it and Ricardo Rodriguez stroked the penalty home.

Depsite the point of contention, the hosts were unable to rouse themselves  in an attacking sense, with Josh Magennis spurning their only decent chance, and have plenty of work to do on Sunday against a Swiss side who won nine of their ten qualifying matches.

 

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