ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia stayed top of World Cup qualifying Group I after a superb first-half goal by striker Nikola Kalinic gave them a 1-0 home win over Ukraine in an action-packed game on Friday.
The result left the Croatians on top of their group with 13 points from five games, three ahead of second-placed Iceland who moved one place up after a 2-1 win in Kosovo. Third-placed Ukraine and Turkey in fourth have eight points each.
The home side missed several chances either side of Kalinic’s 38th-minute thunderbolt while a cagey Ukrainian outfit rarely troubled Croatia’s rearguard in the Maksimir stadium.
Mario Mandzukic hit the post for Croatia and Kalinic twice came close before he broke the deadlock in the 38th minute, drilling an unstoppable shot into the top corner after good work by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Kalinic should have doubled Croatia’s lead four minutes later but goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov smothered the striker’s weak lob from 12 meters when the goal was at his mercy.
At the other end, Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic parried a pair of long-range efforts and defender Tin Jedvaj cleared the ball off the line after a goalmouth scramble.
Pyatov came to Ukraine’s rescue in the dying minutes when he palmed away a stinging Modric shot after the midfielder’s darting run into the box.
Croatia next visit Iceland on June 11, while Ukraine are away to Finland.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade, editing by Pritha Sarkar)