Croatia edged closer to next year’s World Cup with an emphatic 4-1 home win over Greece on Thursday in the first leg of their two-legged playoff.
The result left the Greeks with a difficult task to overhaul the deficit in Athens on Sunday if they are to reach their third successive finals.
Striker Nikola Kalinic, who stood in for the injured Mario Mandzukic, shone as he won a penalty for Croatia’s opening goal scored by captain Luka Modric and netted the second to give the home side a 2-0 lead at Maksimir stadium.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled one back for Greece before Ivan Perisic made it 3-1 with a thumping close-range header in an action-packed first half.
Andrej Kramaric scored Croatia’s fourth shortly after the break, poking the ball in from two metres after Sime Vrsaljko had cut out a poor back pass.