A late strike from Eduardo sealed a 2-1 World Cup qualifying win for Croatia to keep them in contention at the top of Group A and in turn break Wales’s hearts after a battling performance.
Gareth Bale put Chris Coleman’s side ahead with a first-half penalty but it was impressive performances from goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and youngster Jonathan Williams that really stood out for the Welsh side. However, despite their best endeavours, they could not keep the visitors at bay all game as Dejan Lovren equalised in the 77th minute with a wonderful strike before Eduardo won the game with three minutes to play.
After a fairly even opening 10 minutes, a lapse in concentration nearly gifted the visitors an early lead but they were rescued by Myhill. After a poor Croatia set-piece Wales felt like the damage had past but they had not banked on Ivan Rakitic, the Sevilla man keeping the ball in play and delivering a perfect cross onto the head of Eduardo but the former Arsenal man headed straight at Myhill.
Eight minutes later, the home side were ahead through their talisman, Bale. Andy King released Joe Ledley on the right-hand side – he broke into the penalty area but his run was stopped by a clumsy tackle from Lovren and a spot kick was awarded. Bale stepped up and calmly fired past Stipe Pletikosa to give Wales the lead for the first time in this qualifying campaign.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Wales very nearly doubled their lead. Ben Davies flicked on a Myhill goal kick which released Hal Robson-Kanu to race towards the Croatian penalty area. The Reading man picked out Bale on the edge of the penalty area with a perfect pass but his shot was well saved by Pletikosa.
The visitors had not really tested Myhill since the opening minutes but as the second half began the West Brom keeper was called into action to deny Eduardo on two occasions as the Welsh goal led a charmed life.
Myhill’s second save from the former Arsenal man was sensational, the forward deflecting a low shot from close range but somehow the goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to tip it over the bar and frustrate the visitors once more.
With 13 minutes to play Croatia’s domination of possession finally paid off as Lovren fired them level with a swerving drive from distance. Wales had remained resolute to block a Mario Mandzukic shot but the striker rolled the loose ball into the defender and he thundered a 25-yard strike past Myhill.
And with three minutes to go Eduardo broke Welsh hearts with a poacher’s effort inside the penalty area. Substitute Ivica Olic played a dangerous cross in from the left and the striker controlled the ball on his chest before firing between Myhill’s legs to seal the win for the visitors.
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