Croatia met Cyprus at Rujevica Stadium in Rijeka in the 2nd round of Group H of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
Zlatko Dalic’s side had a shocking display in Ljubljana on Wednesday, losing to Slovenia to open the qualifications and immediately complicated their road to the World Cup. Recall, only the group winner qualifies directly for Qatar.
Dalić mixed things up on Saturday, opting for a 4-3-3 formation instead. Duje Ćaleta-Car, Mario Pašalić, Josip Brekalo, and Ante Budimir were new to the starting eleven, while Domagoj Vida, Mateo Kovačić, Nikola Vlašić, and Andrej Kramarić dropped out of the first 11 compared to Wednesday.
Croatia (4-3-3): Livaković, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Ćaleta-Car, Barišić; Brozović, Brekalo, Modrić, Pašalić, Perišić; Budimir
Cyprus (3-4-3): Demetriou; Kousoulos, Soteriou, Laifis; Psaltris, Artymatas, Cham. Kyriakou, Ionanou; Tzioni, Ilia, Pittas
Croatia was powerful to start the match, pushing the Cyprus defense in the first 10 minutes. Pašalić just missed a header for the Croatia lead in the 4th minute, and Barišić’s left side was active in getting Croatia to attack. Croatia totally dominated a weak Cyprus side who seldom touched the ball.
Nearing the 20th minute, Luka Modrić volleyed from 18-meters to hit just over the goal, and Croatia’s chances did not stop there. A Perišić lay-off to Brozović saw him miss in what was perhaps Croatia’s best chance so far.
Vrsaljko played a beautiful ball into the box that was a hair too fast for Pašalić’s head, and Luka missed again from outside the box.
But then it happened.
Croatia finally found the back of the net in the 39th minute. Mario Pašalić scored from a header for 1:0!
Croatia almost made it 2:0 five minutes later, but the ref called it offside. Croatia ended the first half with 71% of possession.
Croatia started the second half with one change – Dalić subbed off Šime Vrsaljko for Josip Juranović.
Croatia’s attacking game did not slow down at the start of the second half.
Perišić and Barišić shot in the 51st minute, while Juranović played a stellar ball to Brozović to shoot a few minutes later. Nothing, however, resulted in a goal.
Andrej Kramarić came on for Ante Budimir in the 57th minute.
Croatia continued to get chances but struggled to find the back of the net. On a good day, it would have been 10:0 for Croatia by now.
Dalić opted for fresh legs again and brought on Mislav Oršić and Nikola Vlašić for Mario Pašalić and Josip Brekalo in the 66th minute. Ivan Perišić and Mateo Kovačić swapped places 10 minutes later.
Cyprus opened up more and was looking forward, especially for that equalizing goal. Croatia’s game was becoming sloppy, and it was hard for them to connect passes. They struggled to maintain a smart attacking game.
Vlašić shot at the Cyprus keeper in the 80th minute. At least he attempted.
The ref added four minutes of injury time and the match ended 1:0 for Croatia.
Croatia will play Malta on Tuesday in Rijeka at 20:45.
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