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Croatia put four past Greece to put one foot in World Cup finals

Home side attack from first whistle to overwhelm opponents

Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric celebrates scoring their fourth goal in the first leg of the World Cup playoff against Greece at Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, Croatia. Photograph: Antonio Bronic/Reuters

Croatia 4 Greece 1

Croatia set one foot back in the World Cup finals after cruising to an emphatic 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their qualifying play-off in Zagreb.

Goals from Luca Modric, Nikola Kalinic, Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric were enough to make Sunday’s second leg against the Greeks – who replied through Sokratis Papastathopoulos – appear a formality.

Shrugging off the absence through injury of striker Mario Mandzukic, the home side pressed from the start with Domagoj Vida bringing an early save out of Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Six minutes later Karnezis handed Croatia a penalty after bringing down Kalinic in the box, and after a short delay Modric stepped up to give his side the lead.

Dejan Lovren headed wide on 18 minutes as the hosts pressed for a second, and one minute later it arrived when Kalinic met a cross from Ivan Strinic and fired past Karnezis.

An otherwise bleak night for the visitors was made temporarily brighter on the half-hour, when Papasthathpoulous reduced the deficit against the run of play with a header from a Konstantinos Fortounis cross.

But the home side were in no mood to let their advantage slip and it took them just three minutes to restore their two-goal lead when Perisic headed in from close range following a cross from Sime Vrsaljko.

The home side were utterly dominant and could have added to their advantage before the half-time break with both Kramaric and Kalinic forcing further saves out of Karnezis.

And if Greece harboured any hopes of a dramatic comeback they evaporated four minutes into the second period when Kramaric prodded home Croatia’s fourth from close range.

Ivan Rakitic brought another save out of Karnezis while Perisic and Kramaric both came close to extending Croatia’s advantage. For Greece, despite Kostas Mitroglu bringing a late save out of home keeper Danijel Subasic, the night was already a lost cause.