Croatia was dealt a significant blow to its World Cup 2018 qualification chances of Friday evening, as they hosted Finland in the city of Rijeka. The Vatreni controlled most of the match, without being particularly convincing offensively.
Either the final pass, or the finish in front of goal were at times severely lacking. Especially in the first half, Croatia dominated most of the ball, had plenty of corner kicks that went nowhere, as well as many shots off target.
Therefore, it was no surprise that there was no score at halftime.
In the second half, the home team pushed forward with more speed and urgency. They got their reward minutes short of the hour-mark, when Mario Mandžukić pushed in a sitter to give his team the lead,1-0.
After that, they became complacent, allowing the visitors to have scoring chances of their own.
They built their opponents back up, when there was absolutely no need for it. In the last minute of regulation time, Pyry Soiri equalized for Finland,1-1. That was the final score.
After Iceland’s big win over Turkey at the same time, they now take top spot in the group that was Croatia’s for so long.
On Monday, Croatia goes away to Ukraine, who could overtake them in second place with a victory. The Balkan nation could only get top spot back, with a win in Kiev and hope for an Islandic meltdown against winless Kosovo.
In other words, second place and a playoff is the best the Croats can realistically hope for.
They will go without coach Ante Čačić, who was fired after the Finland match. The Croatian soccer federation (HNS) instead appointed Zlatko Dalić who has coaching experience at Croatian, Albanian and Middle Eastern clubs on his CV. Hopefully, Dalić can make the new coach effect happen immediately.