FIFA World Cup Qualifying: Croatia 0 Scotland 1
By Football News
Scotland dented Croatia's chances of making the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with a 1-0 win in Zagreb on Friday.
The visitors, despite having nothing to play for with their qualification hopes extinguished, scored the only goal 26 minutes in when Robert Snodgrass prodded home, with the toothless home attack unable to ever fully threaten Scotland's goal.
Star midfielder Luka Modric did not feature for the hosts, with Mateo Kovacic, Sammir and Ivan Rakitic supporting Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic in attack.
Gordon Strachan made six changes to his Scotland side, including Leigh Griffiths in attack for the 22-year-old's first international start.
A tense start from both sides saw few chances created, apart for long-range shots from Scotland captain James Morrison and Ivan Perisic for the home side, with both efforts flying over.
Strachan's side were rewarded for a composed start just before the half-hour when Shaun Maloney looked to dribble past Darijo Srna, but the 31-year-old got a toe on the ball. However, the ball ran perfectly into the path of Snodgrass, who slid in to bravely lift the ball over Stipe Pletikosa, who received extensive treatment after the Norwich man caught the goalkeeper in the face with a stray boot.
The hosts should have been level before the half was complete, but Sammir blazed over with the goal gaping after Grant Hanley's weak back-pass forced Allan McGregor into a poor clearance and Rakitic could only direct a diving header wide from Darijo Srna's cross from the right.
Olic had a great chance soon after, blazing over the crossbar after turning Alan Hutton neatly, and Hanley was called into a last-ditch clearance in the six-yard box as a frustrated Croatia side went in at the break behind.
After 10 joyless minutes of the second half, home coach Igor Stimac made an attacking change, bringing Eduardo da Silva on for Perisic. And they should have drawn level on the hour mark, but a sliding Mandzukic could only turn Olic's low cross wide from two yards out. The Bayern man then lashed an audacious overhead effort too high from Rakitic's delivery.
Croatia entered the final 20 minutes with four strikers on the pitch as Nikola Kalinic replaced left-back Ivan Strinic, but McGregor stood firm behind a dogged defence.
Off-target efforts in the shape of Mandzukic's looping header and Kovacic's scuffed shot were all the Croats had to show for their efforts, as they slipped to the first defeat of their campaign and opened the door for Belgium to take a three-point lead at the top of Group A, a chance they just managed to take as they beat Serbia 2-1 in Brussels.