Croatia win while Northern Ireland fall to narrow defeat in World Cup playoffs

England grouped with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in World Cup Draw

Croatia placed one foot on the plane to Russia and the World Cup Finals next summer with a 4-1 thrashing of Greece in the 1st leg of their qualifying playoff in Zagreb last night.

Croatia got off to the perfect start when Greek keeper Orestis Karnez conceded a penalty which Luka Modric was happy to convert to open up the scoring for the home side.

Minutes later Nikola Kalinic found himself open to double the home sides lead before Greece managed to score an important away goal on the half hour mark, which brought them back into the game at 2-1.

Unfortunately for the visitors any dreams of a comeback where short lived as Ivan Perisic nodded in Croatia’s third of the game shortly after as they took the 3-1 lead into the break.

The second half was much better defensively for the visitors as they restricted the home time to one more goal shortly after the restart when Andrej Kramaric benefited from a very bad back pass to increase the lead to 4-1 which is how it finished. The result now means Greece have a massive task and must win by at least 3-0 in Sundays return leg as then they would qualify on the away goal rule.

In last night’s other playoff game, Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to Switzerland thanks to a somewhat controversial second half penalty. The decision came on the hour mark when Northern Ireland's defender Corry Evans was deemed to have handled the ball inside his area, although it could be considered a very harsh call as the ball struck the players shoulder, but never the less, Ricardo Rodriguez was on hand to score the all-important away goal that makes the return game in Basel an even harder task as they look to qualify for their first World Cup in over 30 years.

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