Croatia met Malta at Rujevica Stadium in Rijeka in the 3rd 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.
Two days later, however, Croatia changed tactics and managed to defeat Cyprus in a comfortable win. Mario Pašalić scored the only goal for the Vatreni during the first half. It surely wasn’t Croatia’s best performance, but it was enough to secure the team’s first three points.
Dalić repeats the 4-3-3 formation used against Cyprus but decided to give many of his players some rest. From the last game, only Livaković, Ćaleta-Car, Pašalić, and Budimir returned the squad. Vida, Kovačić, and Vlašić made a comeback to the starting lineup after being benched the last match. Juranović, Melnjak, Badelj, and Oršić started for the first time. Vida replaced Modrić as the captain.
Croatia (4-3-3): Livaković, Juranović, Ćaleta-Car, Vida, Melnjak; Kovačić, Badelj, Vlašić, Pašalić, Oršić; Budimir
Malta (3-4-3): Bonello; Shaw, Pepe, Borg; Mbong, Guillaumier, Kristensen, Camenzuli; Teuma, Satariano, Pisani
Croatia put a lot of pressure on the opposite team from the start, and it was Vlašić who got the first shot of the game in the second minute that went out, but very close to the post. Both teams started quite aggressively.
In the 14th minute, Vlašić again showed up to dribble past two defenders and put a very dangerous cross into the box. Pašalić hit the ball with a great header, but the shot went against the crossbar. This was Croatia’s clearest attempt during the first half.
Despite the early pressure from Croatia in the first 18 minutes, it didn’t seem like enough to take the lead or dominate the ball possession. Shortly after, the Croatia midfield seemed to find the patience necessary to initiate the attacks in a more orderly manner, getting 64% of the possession in the 25th minute.
Although the Croatia side became the superior team in terms of possession and attempts afterward, the Malta defense did not give ground. Once again, a nice combination between Budimir and Vlašić in the 31st minute of the game gave the latter a great chance to put an interesting cross in the box, but no one was there to tap it in.
They continued to look for scoring opportunities through the end of the first half, but despite Vlašić’s great first half and Oršić, Pašalić, and Kovačić’s individual display; the visitors did not lower their arms and defended their goal fiercely.
Just one minute was added to the end of the first half, but the result did not budge. Both teams reached the halftime break drawing 0-0.
The Vatreni began the second half just like the first one, searching for the lead by pressuring their rivals from the start. And who else but Vlašić, who in the 46th minute shot to goal to complete his third attempt of the night, however, saved by the keeper.
A couple of minutes later, another great opportunity came for the home team when Juranović’s long ball reached Oršić, and the Dinamo midfielder found himself in a 1v1 situation with the goalkeeper. Oršić tried to lob the keeper, but he managed to stop the shot.
In the 53rd minute, Dalić decided to make a triple substitution. Modrić came on for Badelj, Brekalo for Pasalić, and Perišič for Budimir.
In the 58th minute, Barišič replaced Melnjak in the left-back position.
Reaching the first 15-minute of the second half, Croatia struggled to find more attempts. However, in the 61st minute, Barišić’s entrance delivered more offensive situations, and he managed to put a beautiful cross that found Perišić completely alone in front of the goal. The veteran player scored the first goal of the game and became Croatia’s fourth all-time scorer.
It looked like Croatia lowered the pressure after the goal, but the referee gave the Vatreni a penalty in the 75th minute due to a handball in the box. Luka Modrić, who became the Croatia player with the most appearances for the national team last match against Cyprus, scored the second goal of the match and his first in the qualifiers.
In the 78th minute, Lovrić replaced Oršić.
In the 90th minute, Brekalo scored for 3:0, which was the final score of the match.
Croatia will visit Russia on September 1 for their fourth game of Group H.
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