An outstanding performance from Duje Cop saw Croatia secure an easy 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland on Monday, ending the host’s run of 11 internationals without a home defeat.
It was the Sporting Gijon forward’s action which forced the opening goal, with the 26-year-old forcing a save from Alan Mannus who could only palm into the path of Mario Mandzukic for the striker to force home.
Cop then got on the scoresheet with a close-range volleyed finish from a free-kick before Andrej Kramaric sealed an impressive win in the second half with a spectacular 25-yard blockbuster.
Northern Ireland applied some early pressure with Josh Magennis looking dangerous down the right, but they soon found themselves behind.
Alan Mannus could only push Cop’s shot from the left-hand side of the box straight to Mandzukic who eventually scrambled the ball over the line for his 29th international goal, moving him up to joint-second with Eduardo in the country’s all-time scoring list.
Marin Leovac headed wide from a Kramaric cross five minutes later before Croatia opted to slow the tempo.
Ante Cacic’s team eventually went in search of a second and, after Mandzukic put his foot through an advertising hoarding following a slight nudge from Johnny Evans, they got it 10 minutes before half-time.
Northern Ireland’s defence was static when an unopposed Matej Mitrovic flicked Kramaric’s corner into the six-yard box, where a free Cop stole in to volley home.
There was controversy nine minutes after the restart when Mannus picked up a pass from Evans to concede an indirect free-kick near the penalty spot.
It was quickly teed up for substitute Marcelo Brozovic who found the back of the net, but referee Mark Clattenburg pulled play back for an infringement and the Inter midfielder blasted over at the second attempt.
Lafferty struggled to trouble the Croatia defence upon his introduction and the visitors extended their advantage in the 67th minute.
Kramaric received the ball in space and sent a sensational strike from distance beyond Mannus and into the top-right corner.
Cop fired narrowly wide from a free-kick before Lafferty was denied a consolation for the hosts by substitute Croatia goalkeeper Ivan Vargic with two minutes remaining.
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