With headlines such as “Glory in Minsk” and “Return to the old path,” the Croatian newspapers generally summed up their country’s 3-1 victory against Belarus. The Croats are in pole position to secure a trip to South Africa in 2010, while Belarus have it all to do in their upcoming games, although since they are only 5 points behind their rivals they are certainly not out of the race just yet.
Croatia began the pressure early on in the game. Luka Modric, who on his day can cause all sorts of problems for the opposition, found himself in space with two options; pass or shoot. He chose to pass, and it turned out to be the wrong choice, the ball to one of his team mates woeful at best. This was followed by a backheel from Ivica Olic which was scrambled off the line, and moments later the striker was involved again, running onto an accurate ball from Eduardo and only just beaten by Belarus goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov, who left the safety of the penalty box to clear the ball.
It wasn’t long, however, before Croatia found themselves in front. A stinging shot from Modric could only be parried behind goal by Zhevnov, and Olic, from the resulting Nico Kranjcar corner, put his country 1-0 up with a powerful header. He could have had two more moments later. The first effort was smashed against the post, and the second was just wide, after he found himself through on goal following a mix up in the Belarus defence.
- Olic celebrates his goal
Croatia kept up their dominance after the interval, in a second half their manager Slaven Bilic described as “perhaps one of the best 45 minutes these players have ever played.” And sure enough, they doubled their lead on the 69th minute with a fantastic display of football. A one-two by Modric and Mario Manzukic set up Olic, who promptly burst into the penalty area and passed backwards. Good organisation from Croatia meant that the ball reached Ivan Rakitic on the right hand side, whose cross into the box was tapped in by Eduardo from close range.
Belarus managed to pull one back late on. A mistake by captain Darijo Srna allowed Verkhovtsov to take advantage after good work by his team mate. But the two-goal deficit was restored only two minutes later. Eduardo’s pass to Rakitic resulted in a low ball across goal, where Olic was waiting to blast the Croats 3-1 up and kill off any hopes of a Belarus comeback.
Man of the Match:
Eduardo da Silva (right)
Belarus: Zhevnov, Kulchy, Kashevsky (Kovel, 54), Kalachyov, Yurevich, Omelyanchuk, Kutuzov (Bliznyuk, 85), Kornilenko (Rodionov, 70), Hleb, Sosnovski, Verkhovtsov.
Croatia: Runje, Simunic, Krizanac (Rakitic, 46), Corluka, Pranjic, Vukojevic, Kranjcar (Mandzukic, 66), Modric, Srna, Eduardo (Juric, 88), Olic.
Interestingly, both teams face each other on the 5th September, this time in Croatia. With most football leagues around Europe in full swing by this time, could there be a different outcome?
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