A remarkable 81st-minute Russia own goal on a waterlogged pitch in Split gifted Croatia the 1-0 win they needed to top Group H and qualify for the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.
Russia led the pool coming into the decisive clash after a run of five straight victories, although they showed little ambition of making that six by beating Croatia for the first time in six meetings.
Seemingly happy instead to sit on a goalless draw that would keep them on course for Qatar, the visitors sought to rely on a defensive record that saw them concede just once in their winning run.
That approach looked to have paid off with the game entering the final 10 minutes and Croatia short of ideas, only for an inadvertent intervention from a Russia defender to turn the situation on its head.
A hopeful Croatia cross from the left skidded through a sodden penalty area and bounced off the knees of left-back Fedor Kudryashov, squirming beyond goalkeeper Matvey Safonov into the bottom-right corner.
A late goal snatches the 2018 #WorldCup runners up an automatic place at Qatar 2022.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 14, 2021
Incredibly, that was the first goal in four matches between the sides in qualifying for the European Championship and World Cup.
Russia, who had attempted only one shot to Croatia’s 19 up to that point, suddenly scrambled forward in search of an equaliser, but the 2018 finalists clung on, condemning their opponents – hosts of the last finals – to the play-offs.
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