Perisic punishes sloppy Wales as Croatia hold on
Euro 2020 qualifying, Group E, Stadion Gradski Vrt - Croatia 2 (Lawrence 17 og, Perisic 48) Wales 1 (Brooks 77)
Croatia moved to the top of Euro 2020 qualifying Group E with a hard-earned victory over a Welsh team that mounted a spirited fightback in the second half.
Tom Lawrence's own goal and an Ivan Perisic strike put the World Cup finalists in charge, although they were made to sweat late on after David Brooks struck with 13 minutes remaining.
Wales now sit third in the group, and Hungary have the chance to go above them if they can win in Azerbaijan later on Saturday. Wales will take on Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday night.
Ahead of that game there will be a lot of positives that Welsh manager Ryan Giggs can take from this defeat to Croatia. His young team often struggled to cope against rhythmic bouts of Croatian possession, but they created enough clear chances to almost force an unlikely draw.
Croatia’s next fixture in the group is against Slovakia in September. By that time they will hope to have shaken off their World Cup hangover that has led to patchy results since their epic summer in Russia in 2018.
How different might the Welsh comeback have been had the referee sent off Tin Jedvaj? Croatia were 2-0 up and coasting when Croatia’s full-back caught Joe Allen with a nasty challenge that should have been a red card. That was only five minutes into the second half; the momentum of the Welsh revival might have started much earlier with the shape and balance of the game changed accordingly.
Gareth Bale (left) looks on anxiously as Wales suffer a 2-1 Euro 2020 qualifying defeat to Croatia in OsijekPA Sport
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ivan Perisic (Croatia): It was a torrid afternoon for the Welsh right-back Connor Roberts, who was caught upfield and out of position numerous times, allowing Inter Milan’s Perisic to make hay in behind. On another day, Perisic might have had a hat-trick; here, he was as direct and decisive for Croatia as he was in the World Cup in Russia last year.
Croatia: Livakovic 7; Barisic 6, Vida 5, Lovren 7, Jedvaj 6; Brozovic 6, Modric 8; Perisic 8, Kovacic 6, Brekalo 7; Kramaric 5 SUBS: Pasalic 6, Badelj 6, Skoric 6
10’ - BIG CHANCE FOR WALES! A long throw-in from Bale catches out the Croatia defence and Harry Wilson is suddenly free, central, and on the edge of the Croatian area. He lets the ball bounce up but doesn't quite catch his volley true, and it goes straight into the arms of Livakovic. What an open look at goal, from absolutely nothing.
17’ - GOAL! Croatia 1 Wales 0. This has been coming. A long ball into the channel vacated by the attacking Roberts finds Perisic in acres of space but in a wide position. He composes himself, and drills a low cross-cum-shot across the six yard box. The ball clatters into Lawrence, rushing back to cover the danger, and trickles into the net.
48’ - GOAL! Croatia 2 Wales 0. A defensive disaster for Wales. Modric and Kramiric almost work an opening into the Welsh area. From a tackle the ball ricochets about, Lawrence is slow to clear and Perisic shoulders Roberts too easily off the loose ball. With his right foot he slams a low shot through the legs of Hennessey an into the net.
77’ - GOAL! Croatia 2 Wales 1. Well well, this makes things interesting! Wales work the ball back and forth across the Croatia area. David Brooks works his way into a shooting position, and unloads a shot with his right foot. The ball skims off the head of Vida, wrongfooting Livakovic as it flies into the net. Game on!
87’ - BIG CHANCE FOR CROATIA! A sumptuous long pass from Luka Modric finds Kramaric in the penalty area, having ghosted away from the Welsh centre-backs. Kramaric brings it down but can only hammer a half-volley into the side-netting. That was the game right there.
90’ - TWO HUGE CHANCES! Kramaric again finds acres of space on the left, cuts into the area and Hennessey does well to parry the shot away. Wales break immediately, Bale's cross finds Brooks with an open look at goal from eight yards but he can't connect properly with his left foot, and Livakovic gathers at the second attempt. Phew!
- Joe Allen will receive a Golden Cap after making his 50th appearance for Wales.
- Croatia remain unbeaten against Wales in five matches and have not last a home fixture for six years.