2018 World Cup Qualifying - UEFA, Playoffs
  • Luka Modric (13' PEN)
  • Nikola Kalinic (19')
  • Ivan Perisic (33')
  • Andrej Kramaric (49')
  • Sokratis Papastathopoulos (30')
1st Leg
1st Leg

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russia next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.

Luka Modric, Nikola Kalinic, Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric all scored in Zagreb, and Croatia will secure their World Cup place if they can hold on in the second leg in Greece on Sunday.

Real Madrid's Modric opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th minute after Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis miscontrolled a backpass and brought down Kalinic, where he was fortunate to only see a yellow card.

It was 2-0 in the 19th minute when Kalinic used his heel to turn in Ivan Strinic's low cross.

Greece found a lifeline on the half-hour mark when Sokratis Papastathopoulos headed a corner back across goal, and Marcelo Brozovic could not keep it out despite getting a head to it on the line.

But just three minutes later Croatia restored their lead as Sime Vrsaljko found Perisic with a cross to the back post, and the Inter Milan winger headed home.

It was nearly worse for Greece as Karnezis pulled off a fine double save to deny Kramaric and Kalinic, but four minutes into the second half Kalinic took advantage of another defensive miscue to make it 4-1.

Konstantinos Stafylidis tried to chest Ivan Rakitic's cross back to his keeper but left it short, and Kramaric pounced from close range.

Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic did well to deny Kostas Mitroglou with a diving save in the 90th minute, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos' follow-up went through the six-yard box untouched, leaving Greece to overcome a three-goal deficit in the return leg.