Croatia won a heated encounter over rivals Serbia 2-0 in Zagreb, to boost their World Cup qualification hopes in UEFA’s Group A.
Mario Manduzkic opened the scoring midway through the first half for the hosts, before Ivica Olic doubled their advantage in the 35th minute to earn Igor Stimac’s side all three points.
It took until the 20-minute mark for the first clear cut opportunity to be mustered after Niko Kranjcar dragged his effort wide following some good link-up play between Luka Modric and Darijo Srna.
The hosts were the better of the two teams in the opening exchanges and deserved their goal in the 23rd minute.
A defensive mistake by Aleksandar Kolarov was capitalised upon by Olic, the striker pressed forward and squared for Mandzukic to side foot into the Serbia net from six yards out.
Croatia made it 2-0 with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, as Olic turned goal-scorer with the simplest of finishes having been picked out with Srna’s free kick to chest home from close range.
Modric endeavoured to add a third in the 50th minute, but his long-distance effort drifted wide as Croatia looked to wrap up all three points in the minutes after the restart.
The Real Madrid midfielder came closer moments later after pushing toward the Serbia goal and unleashing a teasing effort that drifted inches wide of Brkic’s near post.
Filip Djuricic forced Stipe Pletikosa into action with 15 minutes remaining after the Serbia midfielder saw his curling effort denied by the Croatia goalkeeper.
Croatia held out for the victory despite some late pressure to move onto 13 points in Group A.
In other early matches in UEFA qualifying, Bulgaria dismissed Malta 6-0 at home, with Aleksandar Tonev hitting a hat-trick in Sofia.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s brace helped Iceland come back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 against Slovenia in Ljubljana.
Albania earned a 1-0 victory against Norway in Oslo, courtesy of a Hamdi Salihi goal, while Liechtenstein and Latvia drew 1-1 in Vaduz after the countries traded first-half strikes.
Turkey got past Andorra 2-0 at Andorra la Vella, but neither Slovakia nor Luxembourg could secure home wins – with the former denied in a 1-1 draw against Lithuania in Zilina, and the latter held to 0-0 by Azerbaijan in Letzebuerg.
In later results, Montenegro scored with 10 men to beat Moldova in Chisinau, with Mirko Vucinic netting the winner on 78 minutes before their opponents also finished with 10 due to a 90th-minute dismissal.
Austria ran over the Faroe Islands 6-0 in Vienna, while Denmark were comfortable 3-0 winners over the Czech Republic in Olomouc.
Romania equalised in second half injury time to salvage a 2-2 draw with Hungary in Budapest, while Bosnia-Herzegovina were helped by an Edin Dzeko brace in their 3-1 victory over Greece in Zenica.
Ukraine stunned Poland 3-1 in Warsaw, Belgium saw off Macedonia 2-0 in Skopje, and Wales produced a stirring comeback to beat 10-man Scotland 2-1 in Glasgow.
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