Croatia thrash Greece in World Cup play-off

Luka Modric scored Croatia's first from the penalty spot

Luka Modric scored Croatia’s first from the penalty spot

Croatia capitalised on a dismal Greece defensive display to take a commanding lead after the first leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off in Zagreb.

Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis’ clumsy touch led to him conceding an early penalty, which Luka Modric converted.

Nikola Kalinic was unmarked to tap in a second but Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ fine header gave Greece an away goal.

Ivan Perisic headed Croatia’s third before half-time before Andrej Kramaric tapped in after a botched backpass.

Konstantinos Stafylidis’ attempt to chest the ball back to his keeper summed up Greece’s defensive display as Sime Vrsaljko stole in to square, giving Kramaric an empty net.

Modric's penalty got Croatia off to the perfect start in front of their fans at Zagreb's Stadion Maksimir<!–

Modric’s penalty got Croatia off to the perfect start in front of their fans at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir

That gave Croatia a three-goal advantage, leaving Greece with a huge task on home soil in Sunday’s second leg, when a 3-0 win will be required to send them through on away goals.

Croatia have not lost a competitive fixture by a three-goal margin since a 5-1 defeat by England in 2009.

Their lead could have been cut late on when former Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou went close twice for Greece, heading over the bar before seeing another header well saved by Danijel Subasic in the 90th minute.

But Croatia controlled proceedings with 59% of possession and 17 shots at goal as Modric and Perisic consistently linked well in midfield, while Atletico Madrid right-back Vrsaljko impressed in creating his side’s third and fourth goals.

This was only Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic’s second game in charge, but in overseeing a 2-0 win in Ukraine to secure a play-off spot and now this dominant victory, his side are close to reaching back-to-back World Cups.

Live Text

Match ends, Croatia 4, Greece 1.

Second Half ends, Croatia 4, Greece 1.

Corner, Croatia. Conceded by Panagiotis Retsos.

Attempt blocked. Ivan Perisic (Croatia) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Marcelo Brozovic.

Attempt missed. Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Greece) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box misses to the left.

Attempt saved. Kostas Mitroglou (Greece) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Alexandros Tziolis.

Substitution, Croatia. Mario Pasalic replaces Luka Modric.

Foul by Domagoj Vida (Croatia).

Zeca (Greece) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

Delay in match Luka Modric (Croatia) because of an injury.

Foul by Nikola Vlasic (Croatia).

Georgios Tzavellas (Greece) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, Croatia. Nikola Vlasic replaces Andrej Kramaric.

Luka Modric (Croatia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Greece).

Offside, Croatia. Ivan Rakitic tries a through ball, but Andrej Kramaric is caught offside.

Anastasios Bakasetas (Greece) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Luka Modric (Croatia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Anastasios Bakasetas (Greece).

Foul by Ante Rebic (Croatia).

Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Greece) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Substitution, Croatia. Ante Rebic replaces Nikola Kalinic.

Attempt missed. Kostas Mitroglou (Greece) header from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Konstantinos Fortounis with a cross following a corner.

Corner, Greece. Conceded by Ivan Perisic.

Substitution, Greece. Anastasios Bakasetas replaces Konstantinos Stafylidis.

Attempt missed. Kostas Mitroglou (Greece) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Georgios Tzavellas.

Attempt missed. Ivan Perisic (Croatia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is too high. Assisted by Luka Modric with a through ball.

Attempt blocked. Ivan Perisic (Croatia) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Nikola Kalinic.

Foul by Nikola Kalinic (Croatia).

Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Greece) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt missed. Sokratis (Greece) header from very close range is too high. Assisted by Kostas Mitroglou with a cross following a corner.

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

Substitution, Greece. Panagiotis Tachtsidis replaces Andreas Samaris because of an injury.

Delay in match Andreas Samaris (Greece) because of an injury.

Corner, Greece. Conceded by Danijel Subasic.

Attempt saved. Kostas Mitroglou (Greece) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Panagiotis Retsos.

Andrej Kramaric (Croatia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Zeca (Greece).

Attempt saved. Ivan Rakitic (Croatia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

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