Croatia beats Slovakia in World Cup qualifying with late Marcelo Brozovic strike

The result left the Croatians second in the group on 10 points from five games, behind Russia on goal difference and three ahead of third-placed Slovenia.

Croatia's players celebrate scoring a goal during the World Cup 2022 group H qualifying match against Slovakia in Bratislava.   -  AP

Croatia stayed on course to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after an 86th-minute goal from midfielder Marcelo Brozovic gave it a vital 1-0 win at Slovakia in their Group H qualifier on Saturday.

The result left the Croatians second in the group on 10 points from five games, behind Russia on goal difference and three ahead of third-placed Slovenia.

Earlier Saturday, Russia won 2-0 in Cyprus while Slovenia beat Malta 1-0 at home. Fourth-placed Slovakia has six points while Malta and Cyprus have four each.

Croatia missed injured captain Luka Modric, who has been sidelined with a muscle injury. His absence made Croatia's midfield look disjointed and bereft of ideas.

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Yet the visitor dominated the opening 30 minutes as Mislav Orsic shaved the bar with a piledriver from 25 metres before Milan Skriniar denied Antonio Colak with a last-gasp block from close range.

 

Slovakia replied with Vladimir Weiss firing just wide from long range. Robert Mak was then denied by a fine save from Croatia's stand-in goalkeeper Ivica Ivusic, who made his debut replacing the injured Dominik Livakovic.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic introduced Ivan Perisic shortly after the break. But Slovakia looked more likely to grab the winner as Robert Bozenik spurned a sitter on the hour when he scuffed his shot across the face of the goal.

With time running out, 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia struck out of the blue as Juraj Kucka failed to clear a cross and Brozovic rifled a sumptuous volley into the bottom corner past home keeper Marek Rodak.

Ivusic then pulled off another fine save to keep Croatia in the driving seat as the home side threw men forward in search of an equaliser.

Croatia is at home to Slovenia in its next match, Slovakia takes on Cyprus, and Russia hosts Malta on Tuesday.

OTHER RESULTS

Group D: Finland 1, Kazakhstan 0

Group A: Ireland 1, Azerbaijan 1

Group G: Latvia 0, Norway 2

Group A: Serbia 4, Luxembourg 1

Group H: Cyprus 0, Russia 2

Group H: Slovenia 1, Malta 0

Group F: Faroe Islands 0, Denmark 1

Group G: Gibraltar 0, Turkey 3

Group F: Israel 5, Austria 2

Group F: Scotland 1, Moldova 0

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